Ewan Gleadow

Movie Review: Emma

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Copyright: Universal Pictures

Oh, good, a Jane Austen adaptation. I don’t do as much reading these days, not as much as I should anyway, but the period pieces Austen provided in her long and varied career are books I have no interest in. On the whole, I don’t really find myself all that drawn to period pieces, but I do see the appeal somewhat for those out there that do. Big, swanky manors, butlers, gout, feasts and dances all come crashing together in yet another adaptation of Emma, this time marking the directorial feature debut of Autumn de Wilde. 

What little benefits Emma can offer up are, of course, in the form of its leading characters. Anya Taylor-Joy has, for lack of a better pun, had little joy this year with her projects. The New Mutants was laughably horrendous, Emma sees her star as the eponymous lead, and offers up a solid adaptation. Her nods to camera and meddling in the lives of those around her is played up rather well, tarnishing the somewhat frivolous niceties that adorn the walls of her manor. Playing up well to the supporting performance offered by Bill Nighy, if there’s one thing Emma can pride itself on is that these two performances manage to shine through the French Fancy style of presentation. It feels like Mr. Kipling has smashed a box of angel slices up with a mallet and tried to make them fall in love with one another.  

Introducing me to Johnny Flynn, a man I’d later see trash the life of David Bowie, was an evidently grim affair. He plays up the gentleman role with all the grace of a penguin in a zoot suit. He doesn’t feel out of place, with his flowing blonde hair and chin chiselled by Zeus himself, but his acting abilities verge on incomprehensible. He’s a nothing, his face will fall into obscurity with the thousands of others who look exactly like him. What extra bells and whistles he can offer as a unique performer are hidden entirely in Emma, a film that looks to give Miranda Hart airtime. I will not sanction such buffoonery, utter sacrilege to give Hart any sort of supporting role, especially when she turns it into a painfully extended variety show for her TV show character.  

Competently flatlining for much of its running time, Emma is a glossy affair, well-acted by its lead but a script that struggles to flare up anything interesting really drags this period drama down. A film that looks delightfully colourful, yet has no substance behind this wall of oversaturation. Perhaps the use of bright, summery colours is to distract from the lack of depth beneath its sickly surface. That’d be the best explanation I can offer, but not even I’m convinced of that. We’ve hit the limit for how many times we can adapt Austen, it’s time to move on. Take a crack at Dostoyevsky. Have a punt with Bram Stoker. I’d even take a ham-fisted adaptation of The Trial by Franz Kafka. You can tell I’ve started reading again between the time I watched this film and the time I finished the review, can’t you? Or at least, you can tell I’ve been learning how to Google famous authors.