Rating; *** ½
For a comedy of manners, Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma is propelled by an incredibly ill-mannered heroine. Jane Wodehouse is one of the most unpleasant protagonists from 19th century literature. Opinionated to the point of being a bully, Emma ploughs her way through the lives of her relatives, friends and staff members with the arrogance of God’s messenger and the impunity of a gender-aggressive feminist who thinks it’s her birthright to play havoc with others’ lives.
Only one friend, George Knightley makes the effort to put Emma in her place. I am so glad to see Anne-Taylor Joy (who is, errr, a joy to behold) and musician John Flynn play the two characters. Joy (who has done mostly horror) gets her first ever opportunity in a big classic picture. Under the watchful gaze of first-time director Autumn de Wilde, Ms Joy blossoms like a wildflower in spring… Her performance compares most favourably with Gwenyth Platrow in the 1996 bigscreen version of Emma.
Anne-Taylor plays the scheming Emma with a ripe fidelity. Her eyebrows knit together in a display of evil design, her lips twist into a toxic smirk every time she is up to no good which is almost all across the lengthy but luminous novel-on-film.
Most see Emma as a character-study of shallowness and vanity. This film makes its heroine’s superficiality a virtue for posh living in an era when matchmaking was the main entertainment for the rich and the bored. Emma’s economically challenged companion Harriet is played by another fine actress Mia Goth who is a portrait of timorous timidity,trailing in Emma’s shadows in silent silhouetted submission.
Though negative , Emma is never vicious or mean. She is just a privileged spoilt bored socialite of a bygone era patronizing the poor and romancing the rich. The film captures the laconic air and the artificial grace of the times with a relish that’s at once a homage and a critique of aristocratic decadence.
Everyone is so much in-character that I was swept into Jane Austen’s character-cluttered beau monde. My only disappointment is Josh O’Conner, a favourite British actor who plays the vicar and Emma’s secret admirer(whom Emma thrusts on Harriet, sigh) like some kind of a glorified buffoon.Unbecoming, specially in a film where everyone is so steeped in the mood and ethos of Austen’s times, it feels like we are transported back to a place where the most important issue of the day is, which gown to wear for the evening ball.And then…is that man on the other side of the room looking at our heroine or her chaperone?
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