A dyed-in-the-wool staple of the rom-com genre, “Emma” once again emerges – well-to-do, spruiking embroidery and matchmaking through Georgian–Regency England– from the pages of Jane Austen’s 1815 classic to help the ‘Clueless’ among us sort out of primacies.
A story so timeless it was contemporised to dynamic and memorable effect in 1995 with Amy Heckerling’s beloved “Clueless”, it’s the wholesome (how refreshing!) and surprisingly relatable tale of a young lass in the 1800’s who spends so much time meddling in other people’s love lives she’s neglected to care for her own. Though interested in romance, particularly if it’s between suited friends she matches up, Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy, of “Split”) is utterly daft when it comes to her own feelings, especially where her closest male friend and neighbour Mr. Knightly is concerned.
Taylor-Joy’s impermeable phizog, superintending an obscured heart and disordered path, makes her interpretation of Emma an exceedingly entertaining and very curious joy to spend time with. Unlike, say, Gwent Paltrow’s turn in the 1996 adaptation of “Emma”, and earlier, Alicia Silverstone’s ‘Cher’ in “Clueless”, this Ms Woodhouse holds her cards much closer to her chest and though misguided when it comes to matchmaking, isn’t portrayed as dim as previous incarnations might have.
Supporting-wise, there’s some delightful displays of classic thesp brilliance on hand, particularly from the likes of Bill Nighy as Emma’s quivering pop, Josh O’Connor as the pompous Mr. Elton, and Miranda Hart as big-hearted chatterbox Miss Bates, but it’s Johnny Flynn – particularly when coupled with Taylor-Joy, where the chemistry is palpable – as the grounded, unlikely suitor Mr Knightly that stands out.
Author Eleanor Catton adds just enough zing and added bursts of wit to the classic story to keep it fresh and – though it’s a yarn we’ve heard and read many times before – full of small surprises. Coupled with tyro director Autumn de Wilde’s lively capturing of the yarn, and her welcome determination to catch every bounce of light that bounds from porcelain-like Anya Taylor-Joy’s expressive face, they’re an effective duo.
With beautiful costume design by Alexandra Byrne, and a well-balanced score by Isobel Waller-Bridge that amplifies every tickle, touch and tender moment between our certain lovers, this latest adaptation of the classic is undoubtedly one of the most striking. No surprise that the film has such as picture postcard template as it does with director de Wilde an accomplished, well-regarded photographer.
And for you kids, if “Clueless” is where your education of Jane Austen starts and ends – due time to visit “Emma”.