Adapted from the 1815 novel by Jane Austen, ‘Emma.’ sees Autumn de Wilde directing a screenplay from Eleanor Catton in a retelling of the classic novel. Anya Taylor-Joy stars in the titular role, Emma Woodhouse, an upper class young woman who enjoys meddling in the love affairs of her friends and family. Being the latest in a long line of adaptations could this feature film debut for de Wilde prove as successful as the original novel?
‘Emma.’ is most certainly easy on the eye. The production and costume design combined with the impressive make-up and hair work does a grand job of bringing all the high society sophistication to life. Unfortunately the narrative can’t match the excellence of the film’s aesthetic. The story is a monotonous insight into rich people problems centering around an insufferable title character. This isn’t fully the fault of the film as Austen admitted that few would warm to her title character other than herself, however with such an unlikeable character at the forefront of the film there needs to be other ways to engage the audience and ‘Emma.’ rarely manages to offer this. One of the few instances when it does succeed in doing so is when the plot finally moves away from the constant rotation of possible suitors for the female characters. Instead it makes a move towards drama that provides more than just shallow romance. However, its a shame that this arrives too late on in the running time and is only under the spotlight for a fleeting moment in an otherwise repetitive picture.
Then there is the issue of length, with a narrative full of monotony taking the film over the two hour mark is a mistake. The pace is far too slow to sustain viewers attention over this bloated runtime, being kept afloat only by the string of supporting characters. These characters are introduced throughout the film at frequent intervals, and each new addition helps to rejuvenate the proceedings, even if only for a briefly until another is required. Without this wealth of characters ‘Emma.’ would be an utterly lifeless drama, dead on arrival. The film owes a lot to the strength of its ensemble cast who portray these literary figures. There’s an abundance of talent present here that may leave you scratching your head in confusion as to why it’s not more entertaining. The likes of Miranda Hart, Bill Nighy and Josh O’Connor certainly make the most of their screen time but they and the more prominent cast members never manage to fully overcome the shortcomings of the narrative.
To much disappointment spirited performances from the cast aren’t enough to make ‘Emma.’ a film worth recommending. Its entitled main character creates an uphill battle for itself and the attempts at comedy aren’t effective enough to win audiences over. No doubt held back by the source material ‘Emma.’ never does enough to reinvent itself for a modern audience and will struggle to connect to viewers beyond the impressive visuals left only to rest on the laurels of its cast of favourites.
Written by Hamish Calvert
STAR RATING –★★
Question: What is your favourite Jane Austen film adaptation?
(Leave your answers in the comments section below!)
Thanks for reading this review and please let us know what you thought about the movie! Leave a comment below or drop us a tweet over at @HCMovieReviews.
Thanks to Movie House Cinemas for screening access