By Juan Calvillo
Universal Pictures released several of their newest films on video-on-demand this weekend due to the COVID-19 outbreak, including their newest take on Jane Austen’s “Emma.” Universal Pictures announced that it would be releasing many of its theater-slated movies online due to the current pandemic, this included movies that were just released and one that will release in theaters and on demand at the same time.
“Emma.” is the movie adaptation of Austen’s classic 1815 book “Emma.” The novel has been adapted as both a movie and a TV series in the past and this take is just enough of both worlds to satisfy Austen fans.
For the ultimate experience of Austen’s “Emma,” most fans would, more than likely, point to the 2009 adaptation done by the BBC. Movie adaptations of “Emma” have always been a bit lackluster to say the least, with the exception of “Clueless,” which most have no clue is an adaptation. Fortunately, director Autumn de Wilde and writer Eleanor Catton have created probably the best movie version yet.
“Emma.” is about a young woman who learns that despite her best intentions, love has a mind of its own. The movie takes place in Highbury, England in a time where there is a very obvious upper and lower class. The story follows titular Emma Woodhouse, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, her matchmaking exploits and the effect these exploits have on the people around her.
Taylor-Joy plays Emma quite well, making her a petulant, childish young woman one moment, then a tender and appreciative one the next. She is especially good in the moments of somber realization that the character goes through during the movie. Taylor-Joy plays Emma as if she would have been perfectly at home in the 17th century ordering people around and riding in carriages. Added on top of that is Taylor-Joy’s playful presence whenever she is on screen with either Mia Goth, who plays Harriet Smith, or with Callum Turner, who plays Frank Churchhill.
Playing Emma’s on screen sparring partner is Johnny Flynn, as George Knightley. Flynn plays Knightley with enough tenacity and earnest opposite Taylor-Joy to make this pairing of actors and the characters unique. Knightley is an all around good man. He is kind and caring, but also honest and strong willed. Flynn makes Knightley not only a hero to root for, but one that the audience will want to win the day alongside Emma.
Although Taylor-Joy and Flynn are the movie’s heart and soul, it’s Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse who is a delight to see and scene-stealer. It might be because Nighy is usually seen in more serious or dramatic roles, but seeing him make fun of a priest, as seen in the movie’s trailer, is hilarious.
It’s this hilarity that sometimes is missed in other versions of Austen’s “Emma.” This adaptation definitely shows the comedic aspects of the book more than other classic versions. Luckily Flynn, Taylor-Joy and Nighy are pitch perfect in their comedic timing when it is necessary.
The music, sets and costumes are spot-on as well. The movie does not veer too far off from the traditional English look for the time period. Bonnets, overcoats and the like are all a part of the movie’s overall look, and coupled with the sets and music, it feels perfect for the movie. Every huge home looks more intricate and beautiful than the last and there are a few scenes where the art hung on the walls reminds audiences that these are well-to-do people.
If there is one thing that differentiates this version of “Emma,” it is the more expressive sense of longing. Knightley and Emma each have moments where there is intense staring at each other. While other versions show care for one another, in this adaptation there is a definite fire between them.
This 2020 adaptation of the book is a very fun, playful and expressive take on Austen’s classic characters. “Emma.” had a limited release in February and went to wide audiences on March 6. It is available now on VOD on multiple streaming services for $19.99. It is rated PG for brief partial nudity.