In the village of Highbury, the “handsome, clever and rich” Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) attends the wedding of her friend and former governess, Miss Taylor, to Mr Weston. Emma is smug that her matchmaking skills were such a success and, once home in Hartfield, against the advice of her father (Bill Nighy) and family friend George Knightley (Johnny Flyn), Emma focusses on her next project: setting up her new friend Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) to the local vicar Mr Elton (Josh O’Connor).
Jane Austen’s 1815 novel has had countless adaptations through stage, television, film and YouTube. Concentrating on the dangers of playing cupid, the themes endure: love, gossip and trying one’s best to help others around you. Starting in the middle of a wedding, however, it is difficult to get a layout of the land as shenanigans of Emma’s project kick off very quickly. We don’t get to have an understanding of the socioeconomic structure of the village a la Downton Abbey, and therefore don’t get a real understanding of the power dynamics between Emma and co and the villagers; i.e. is Harriet a ‘friend’ or a subject with little choice but to bow to gentry?
The costumes, colour and image are sharp and distinct, a shade down from the hyper-quirkiness of Tim Burton. It’s just a shame that the characters don’t jump out as much. Their (supposed) chemistry is hard to spot, as is any further introspection: is Emma’s cupid simply deflecting due to her own intimacy issues?
Verdict: A cold, gossipy, irritating experience. Clueless nailed it.
Emma – 2.5 stars.