Director Autumn de Wilde has an entertaining film debut in “Emma,” based on the Jane Austen novel. The film is quick and colorful with enough lively moments to keep even the most reluctant observer of period dramas engaged.
Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a bored and wealthy young woman. When the family attends a wedding of a governess, Emma gets the idea of pursuing the role of matchmaker in earnest. Her target is Harriet (Mia Goth) a naive and good natured girl. Harriet is struck by the passive and nonchalant Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn) but Emma is not hearing of it.
Taylor-Joy is excellent and completely carries the role. She is aloof and arrogant with big eerie eyes that bore right through. Even the greenhouse flowers droop under her gaze.
A stand-out is Josh O’Connor as the ghoulish Mr. Elton. He hovers.
No one (aside from Harriet) is likable and absurdity occurs when there is so much drama over so many bland personalities.
Bill Nighy appears as the germaphobe Mr. Woodhouse. He is self-absorbed and isolated, passing the hours turning pages and making sour faces.
As the director is a photographer, a masterful style is central to this film and the cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt featuring hostile interior spaces and some dizzying shots of wallpaper patterns. Wealth has never seemed so claustrophobic.
“Emma” is a study in manipulation under the guise of a comedy of manners. It is no accident that her emotions induce nosebleeds, behind her wide eyes her brain spins with visions of one-upmanship more entrancing than any belladonna.
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