Not much new to this latest Austen adaptation
When you are viewing a new adaptation of a work that has been translated for screen multiple times, you wonder, how will this stand out? Will a distinct voice shine through (see Gerwig’s Little Women)? Will this version make you take a closer look at a different aspect of the work?
Sadly, with Autumn de Wilde’s Emma., I ended up comparing it to Heckerling’s Clueless and McGrath’s Emma. And once I started contrasting performances, costumes, screenwriting, etc… I kept wishing I was watching one of those earlier adaptations instead.
There’s nothing really wrong with this new Emma (period), but there’s not much of the new here either. Emma (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) decides she has a knack for match-making and takes on a new friend, Harriet (Mia Goth), in hopes of pairing her up with a deserving partner. Emma is snobby, silly, and rather observant. She is unmarried and dotes on her father (Bill Nighy, as hilarious as ever). Family friend Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn) joins them often for dinner.
Taylor-Joy emphasizes the extremes of Emma’s character, from her vain whims to her growing devotion to a new friend (“I only want to keep Harriet for myself,” she comments). She barely restrains her annoyance at chatty spinster Miss Bates (Miranda Kerr) and social climber Mrs. Elton (Tanya Reynolds, who almost steals the movie). She and Flynn share a slow-burn chemistry, which practically smolders onscreen during a dance at a ball.
Excess is on display in de Wilde’s film; stacks of cakes sit on tables, dozens of colorful hats and fabrics serve as backdrop at a pastel-hued haberdashery, and a duo of footmen seem to follow Mr. Woodhouse’s every whim. The audio at my preview screening was annoyingly muffled, but I appreciated the arrangements of rustic hymns and traditional choral tunes (it reminded me of shapetone singing, but it’s not exactly that) incorporated into the story.
But there’s not enough to this Emma. to make it distinct enough from another. While I enjoyed my viewing (despite the crappy theater sound), I found it rather forgettable.