Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

5/5 (1)

Emma Woodhouse is the titular heroine of the classic romance by Jane Austen. A single woman who eschews marriage, she doesn’t mind playing matchmaker for others. However, her machinations often become a bit tangled.

For those of you who flunked English Literature 101, Jane Austen (1775-1817) is the celebrated author of six novels that critique British landed gentry at the end of the 18th Century. Her works are known for their realism, humor, and social commentary – not to mention an acute sense of irony.

Surely, you’ve read “Sense and Sensibility” or “Pride and Prejudice.”

If not, maybe you’ve seen the movies – Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility” with Emma Thompson, or Joe Wright’s “Pride and Prejudice” with Keira Knightley?

Movies have become the Classic Comics of our age.

Now we have Autumn de Wilde’s film version of “Emma,” starring Anya Taylor-Joy. This is a fresh take on Austen’s 1815 same-named comedy of manners.

That means you can now ignore the 1997 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and the BBC-TV version with Kate Beckinsale.

This new “Emma” is notable for being the feature film directorial debut of Autumn de Wilde, an American photographer known for her portraits of musicians and for music videos.

Don’t get too nervous by de Wilde’s pedigree. We’re not talking about a mashup like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” And any stray American viewpoint is lost in this British-like production … although de Wilde does take “flirtatious liberties with Austen.”

If you detect a hint of screwball comedy, keep in mind that de Wilde cites “Bringing Up Baby” and John Hughes’s coming-of-age movies as her inspiration for this lighthearted telling of the story.

The script by Eleanor Catton has been called an “amiable, genial and interestingly unassuming new adaptation.” Catton won the Man Booker Prize in 2013 for “The Luminaries,” making her the youngest author to win the esteemed literary prize.

“Emma” is currently making matches at Tropic Cinema.

This colorful version is a showcase for Anya Taylor-Joy, perfect as the spoiled 20-year-old daughter of a widowed landowner. Emma’s efforts are sometimes tinged with a mean streak, evidenced in her spiteful treatment of Miss Bates. Her awkward attempts at matchmaking disguise the absence of romance in her own life. But by the last page … uh, I mean by the movie’s end credits … she finds the right mate.

Taylor-Joy earned her turn at the role by strong performances in “Witch,” “Split,” and “Thoroughbreds,” as well as starring in the fifth season of the British TV crime show “Peaky Blinders.”

The ensemble cast of “Emma” includes Johnny Flynn as the girl’s more-than-mentoring neighbor, George Knightley; the always delightful Bill Nighy as her draught-obsessed father; Gemma Whelan as her former governess; Mia Goth as sweet-natured-but-scared Harriet Smith; Josh O’Connor as the insufferably pious clergyman Mr. Elton; Connor Swindells as a local farmer named Robert Martin; Miranda Hart as the loquacious Miss Bates; Rupert Graves as a marital prospect named Mr. Weston; Tanya Reynolds as the abrasive Mrs. Elton; and Callum Turner as the caddish Frank Churchill.

Well done.

But when it comes to Jane Austen rom-coms, I’ll still go with “Clueless,” Amy Heckerling’s 1995 homage that successfully transposed the Regency classic to the modern milieu of a California Valley Girl high school.

Email Shirrel: srhoades@aol.com

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