Emma review: a brilliant new adaptation

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Anya Taylor-Joy leads a new big screen adaptation of Emma – and it’s a fabulous treat.

For the third month in a row the Movie Gods have bestowed upon us another sumptuous adaptation of a classic book. December brought us Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, Armando Iannucci’s take on David Copperfield arrived in January. Now make way for Autumn de Wilde’s Emma. And it’s a flat-out delight.

Emma. (it does have a full stop after it, which plays havoc with autocorrect) is a faithful adaptation of Jane Austen’s story from 1815. It follows the main arc of the familiar tale and hits all the key plot points. However, Eleanor Catton’s screenplay revitalises the satire within Austen’s words and brings out the sass and savagery. It feels fresh and contemporary, even though it’s firmly routed in its regency era and never strays into being anachronistic.

Much of that is do with how utterly sublime the entire ensemble cast are. There have been countless adaptations of Emma, but has there ever been a cast for it so perfectly chosen?

Anya Taylor-Joy’s eponymous character leads proceedings, figuratively as her character is a master manipulator and matchmaker, but also through Taylor-Joy’s performance. Her eyes dominate the screen, a look conveying a thousand words: words usually of judgement, distain, disproval, amusement, glee – often all at once. Combine that with the way she delivers each line of Catton’s crisp screenplay, with piercing venom – the kind that hurts on first bite but increases with potency long after – this is an Emma for our times.

Gone is the bright, breezy and rather coyly charming Gwyneth Paltrow-era, this Emma is assured, empowered, unapologetic and a true force to be reckoned with. Whilst also being wickedly funny.

That’s perfectly counterbalanced and reinforced by the rest of the cast.

Josh O’Connor is truly hysterical as the obnoxious Mr Elton – he gives his all with his performance, offering reactions and line delivery that will undoubtedly serve us well as GIFS in the future. Bill Nighy steals every scene he is in as Emma’s father, who happens to be obsessed with drafts. And then there’s Johnny Flynn’s Mr Knightley, who is so delightfully charming it’s obscene.  The rapport between Flynn and Taylor-Joy is a total joy to watch, like two perfectly matched wits.

Much like the film overall, it’s a perfect match – of sumptuous sets, intimate cinematography, perfect scoring, stunning costumes, charming performances and witty screenplay. Just superb.

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