It is not the first film adaptation of Jane Austen’s EMMA., but the first to be visibly inspired by a recent Oscar winner. But Autumn de Wilde is no Yorgos Lanthimos and that’s why her film is only partially so congenial. We reveal more about this in our review.
The plot summary
England, early 19th century: Young Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), beautiful, clever and rich, is the undisputed leader of better society in her sleepy town – and no one has a higher opinion of her charm, style and wit and playing the piano than she does. There is no match far and wide more attractive than Emma, but strangely enough, she simply hasn’t met the right one yet. So she spends her time trying to set up others, especially her friend Harriet (Mia Goth). But despite Emma’s unlimited trust in her people skills, her well-intentioned schemes go awry. The chosen lovers don’t bite, inappropriate rivals appear, and ultimately even Emma herself has to fend off unwanted advances.
Emma. Movie Meaning of ending
The new adaptation of well-known literary material has never really gone out of fashion. But we have now reached a point where the great works of well-known writers have often received two or even more interpretations for the big screen. So you’re not just spoiled for choice as to which one you as a viewer consider to be best. Filmmakers also feel the need to breathe something of their own into their version so that their film stands out from the others. We remember: Only recently, with what is now the fourth major “Little Women” film adaptation , Oscar-nominated Greta Gerwig showed us how to manage a classic that is over 150 years old, which was already adapted during the silent film era, using the means of modern film, so to speak to adapt to the zeitgeist and still retain the quintessence of the novel. Jane Austen’s “Emma.” has been made into a film four times, and once it became a whole series. The best-known version, as it is most suitable for the masses, is probably “Clueless – What Else?”; a 1995 teen comedy inspired by the novel and starring Alicia Silverstone. Music video director Autumn de Wilde chose a similar approach to her colleague Gerwig for her feature film directorial debut: she stays in the narrative time and place, arrested a few miles southwest of London at the beginning of the 19th century, and at the same time tells the well-known story about the title heroine of the same name modern and traditional. So your film could be in equal parts from 30 years ago, but also from 2020. An exciting balancing act that continues in the production, but no longer works so smoothly there.
The “fine society” meets for tea.
“I will create a heroine that no one will particularly like except me!” – this is what Jane Austen herself is said to have said about her Emma. And leading actress Anya Taylor-Joy (“Thoroughbred”) shows us why this is the case in the first minutes of the film. Her self-confident and arrogant attitude go hand in hand. As the leader of the so-called “fine London society” who is adored by everyone, she never has to worry that her boundless self-confidence could be even slightly dampened. As charming and open-minded as she appears to be, especially towards other young women, to whom she sells herself as a loyal listener and friend, her own desire for recognition is hidden subliminally in her gestures; As someone who knows that the social standing of pretty much everyone in your environment is below you, you ultimately have nothing to fear when dealing with other people. Emma is correspondingly open and quick-witted, enjoys it when others court her and even obey her, and she hardly risks anything herself. True to the novel, this Emma in “Emma.” has absolutely nothing to fear, has hardly any dramatic fall height and therefore remains aloof (and somehow unreachable) for the viewer most of the time. Coupled with Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance, which oscillates between aloof, overly close to people and self-confident, there is also a fascination: What will it be like for Autumn de Wilde and her screenwriters Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Jacek Dehnel (who also wrote the script together to “Loving Vincent” ) to stir up interest in such an abstract figure when you can’t meet him at eye level?
This works a little via Taylor-Joy’s aforementioned performance, which is simply fun in its unleashed performance outside of her previous genre roles. The 23-year-old visibly enjoys herself – and that’s contagious. In particular her colleague Mia Goth (“A Cure for Wellness”) , who has previously also been seen in more obscure film productions. The two women encourage each other to achieve top performance, from which Goth stands out again. Her exaggerated insecurity causes deliberate overacting on several occasions, in keeping with the already prevailing exaggeration of the situation. Because, like the book, this “Emma.” variation is all too often an imitation of common Jane Austen and romance models. The emphasized silliness in the acting of all the characters not only shows what outrageous dialogues in films and books of this caliber are sometimes sold as sensible prose. Above all, it shows us the bizarre habits and customs of polite society. Never mean-spirited or even cynical, but in an amusing, parodic way, as Yorgos Lanthimos recently achieved with his famous Oscar contender “The Favorite” (only a little bit more biting). This may well have been the inspiration for “Emma.” Also in its staging formal rigor; Although the accurate camera work by Christopher Blauvelt (“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”), which strives for symmetry , is more reminiscent of Wes Anderson than of the abstract distortions of perspective of Lanthimos.
But Lanthomos is superior to Autumn de Wilde most of the time. Not only in its narrative accuracy (in “The Favourite” there was hardly any dialogue that did not expand the essence of the characters it expressed to another, ambiguous level), but also in its directorial coherence. Wonderful parodic moments of high society life alternate with scenes that are suddenly presented in an absolutely down-to-earth way by those involved. It’s as if the makers (or rather Jane Austen) didn’t want to betray the amorous integrity of their characters, despite all the fiction. A laudable idea in itself, as it doesn’t expose the characters to absolute ridiculousness, which also fits Austen’s character, who always held her characters very close to her own heart. But ultimately this clashes so strongly with the rest that in the end you don’t really know whether the romantic comedy “Emma.” accidentally became a parody, or whether the romance parody “Emma.” accidentally turned into a parody here and there a real romantic comedy, at times even with a fairly clear drama touch. This game of different genre orientations could even be really exciting if the film showed any indication that this constant change of tonality was intentional. But there is no attraction, no tension, just the feeling that someone here couldn’t decide how exactly the direction of the template was planned.
Conclusion: Jane Austen meets “The Favourite”: In the new film adaptation of the bestseller “Emma.” you never quite know whether the whole thing is supposed to be a parody, a sincere romance, both or neither. This only makes the film amusing at times, as the rest of the time you wonder what the film would have been like if they had been able to agree on a tonal balance.
“Emma.” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from March 5th.