Emma – 4.5 stars
I have seen several Emmas. I believe this is my favorite, primarily, because this Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the perfect blend of headstrong, spoiled, meddlesome and smart. Better, when she finally gives in to her desire for Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn, who was totally different as the lovelorn, quiet good guy in Amazon’s excellent Vanity Fair), the timing is spot on, and she and Flynn play very well together. Best, when they argue, they stand their ground and then in charming fashion, fix a détente that all but they see as love.
Here is a not very good “Badly done” scene, mainly because Johnny Lee Miller just snaps and Romola Garai looks like she hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about.
Here is a terrible “Badly done” scene. Jeremy Northam is very good, but Gwyneth Paltrow starts at weepy and then just folds.
In this film, when Knightly upbraids Emma (I cannot find the scene), she does not crumple in the revelation of her awful behavior. She’s still pissed and fighting. Only later, after some time, does she make amends and then, not in a simpering fashion.
Moreover, this a master class in wordless chemistry.
Finally, you cannot do much better than Bill Nighy’s fussy, movingly emotional Mr. Woodhouse, plagued by drafts and daughters who abandon him, and Josh O’Connor (Prince Charles in The Crown) who chews scenery by the fistfuls as Mr. Elton.
On Amazon Prime.
It’s a wonderful movie, but I must admit it took me a few scenes to adjust to the updated, tongue-in-cheek style the filmmakers used to tell the story. I knew I was in a different Jane Austen universe when George Knightley got fully undressed as his introduction to the audience and, later, when Emma Woodhouse lifted her underskirt to toast her naked buns against a roaring fire. We only see Miss Woodhouse’s butt in profile, but in what other Jane Austen movie have we seen even a hint of a person’s hindquarters?
The film sets were eye-popping, too, even if perhaps not historically accurate. No dowdy and drab interiors to signal understated aristocratic wealth and taste, but bright modern oranges, yellows, and pinks painted and applied as paper on the walls as if by a gay interior designer. Several times during the film we see a line of schoolgirls dressed in bright scarlet red cloaks march past the camera on their way to … somewhere. Perhaps to the movie set of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
But it works!
BTW, you describe perfectly the wonderful interaction between Flynn’s George Knightly and Taylor-Joy’s Emma Woodhouse when you write, “Best, when they argue, they stand their ground and then in charming fashion, fix a détente that all but they see as love.”
That’s exactly right. The movie sets up their romance by showing them from the beginning as more like brother and sister than as potential romantic partners. They are too close to one another to understand their mutual attraction. They feud and tease and are brutally honest with one another – and yet both miss the obvious. And so it is touching when with some hesitation and skepticism they begin to understand what they feel for the other.
You also rightly mention Nighy’s Mr. Woodhouse and O’Connor’s Mr. Elton, both of whom provide much of the comic relief in the film. But I must add a word about Mia Goth’s Harriet Smith. She is so wonderful in projecting that schoolgirl naiveté that draws in Emma’s need to protect, guide and nurture. Hard to believe she’s an actress in her late-twenties. She was absolutely perfect in the role.
Great observations. I too resisted because it simply broke out of the mold so completely. You are correct – the film was vivid. How refreshing it was not to see the “dowdy and drab interiors to signal understated aristocratic wealth and taste,” the Merchant-Ivory haze that almost feels like a nylon has been affixed to the lens. And Goth was also pitch perfect. Often, that character is so besotted and captivated by Emma that she becomes an uninteresting lackey. Goth made her gentle, trusting but ultimately, questioning as she developed.
Although to be fair, Merchant-Ivory movies never had a problem showing naked people in their period pieces, as long as they were naked men.
But Merchant-Ivory certainly never had the courage to show the heroine with a nosebleed in the scene where the lovers finally confess their feelings for the first time.
(In case it’s not clear what I mean here, I was thinking about the three men cavorting naked around the pond in the 1985 film A Room with a View, which included some full frontal shots that were pretty daring for the time.)
No, I remember the male genitalia all too well. It took some of the daring of Richard Gere and Bruce Willis away.