Long thought of as one of Jane Austin’s most popular novels, Emma is a novel which, more often than not has suffered from mishandling and misdirection in most depictions. Time and again most Austen fans are left disappointed by the text being taken too seriously when adapted to screen, producers and directors alike treating the text with an unnecessary preciousness. This latest offering, from director Autumn deWilde, does not seem to fall into this trap.
In this latest version, the meddlesome Emma Woodhouse is portrayed by Anya Taylor-Joy, an American born English actress who’s previous roles have in the BBC’s Peaky Blinders and M Knight Shyamalan’s 2015 horror/thriller Split. For those who do not already know the plot, the film is set around Austen’s heroine Emma Woodhouse, who takes it upon herself yo interfere in the love lives of her friends, simply for her own amusement.
What is particularly enjoyable about this version is that the shackles and pressure of having to portray such well known and loved characters seem to have been lifted from this latest set of actors, allowing for a freshness that has in the past been lacking. The great irony is that many of those who are fans of the original literary characters feel that this has made for a film that is in keeping with how Jane Austen originally intended her characters to be written.
Alongside Taylor-Joy stand an exquisite ensemble. Mia Goth, who starred alongside Anya Taylor-Joy in Sergio G. Sanchez’s The Secret of Marrowbone, is excellent as Emma’s doe-eyed, naive protege Harriet Smith, while Johnny Flynn is quietly understated as Emma’s ignored love interest, Mr. Knightly. On the fringes of the main plot, Miranda Harte is as entertaining as is expected. Even if this is a rather understated role she doesn’t overbear, which is always a danger with such a large personality.
On the whole, this is a film worthy of the name Austen, it breathes life and fresh air into what could otherwise be an unnecessarily stuffy atmosphere