Last Updated on April 30, 2020

At a time where things are globally so uncertain, it’s good to return to something familiar for a much needed dose of comfort. 

Emma., courtesy Box Hill Films © 2019 Focus Features, LLC.

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“Emma.,” the latest Jane Austen adaptation and the feature film directorial debut from Autumn de Wilde, is a cheerful, colorful, and heart-warming take on the classic story. 

“Emma.” stars Anya Taylor-Joy as the titular Emma, a woman who, in her complacency, attempts to play matchmaker within her social circle. Problems arise, however, when Emma fails to consider the consequences of her actions, seemingly dooming love for those around her and even for herself.

Taylor-Joy is a convincing Emma, confident and almost cocky when she needs to be. Her best moments, though, come later in the film where Emma has realized how foolish she has been. It is here where Emma shifts into vulnerability and finally sheds her self-assured facade. Taylor-Joy does so effortlessly, resulting in a character audiences understand, pity, and adore.

Johnny Flynn captivates as Mr. Knightley, Emma’s brother-in-law and the sole critic of her behavior. While we come to know him for his severe expressions and his sharp tongue, Flynn appropriately catches the softness of Knightley’s character, whether he’s playing a peaceful duet on the fiddle or scolding Emma for her social mistakes.

Emma., courtesy Box Hill Films © 2019 Focus Features, LLC.

Mr. Knightley doesn’t criticize Emma to be cruel. Rather, he speaks frankly with her because he cares and wants what’s best for her. Flynn masters that distinction, crafting a character who isn’t cruel but is instead admirable. 

Also worthy of mention is Miranda Hart as Miss Bates. British costume drama fans know her as Chummy in Call the Midwife, and some may recognize Hart from her sitcom “Miranda,” a series brimming with the comedian’s unique sense of humor. Hart brings that same humor to the role of Miss Bates, a character who desperately longs for Emma’s friendship and, more importantly, her approval.

Emma., courtesy Box Hill Films © 2019 Focus Features, LLC.

Though Miss Bates isn’t considered a main character, Hart’s performance is so delightful that viewers will look forward to her next appearance in the film, again and again.

What sets Emma. apart from other period films is the splash of color and the sheer life that is present on the screen. While many period dramas, especially those set in the Regency era, focus on neutral and natural tones, “Emma.” instead breaks the mold by treating the viewer to a setting of pastel and bright shades. (High praise for the costumes and their historical accuracy here.)

Equally as lovely is the choice of music, a lively selection of instrumentals to carry the audience through the story. There are even some musical performances by members of the cast which, are reportedly all authentic instead of dubbed. We’re left with a film that is pleasing to the eye, a joy to hear, and – perhaps best of all – a reason to laugh in troubling times.

”Emma.,” no doubt, will appeal to audiences universally, whether that audience is full of loyal Austen fans or viewers new to the canon of Austen stories. 

While it may not be the definitive adaptation, Autumn de Wilde’s new film lets viewers spend a couple of hours lost in the lovely world of Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley. “Emma.” is an accomplished take at a beloved story.

Available May 5, 2020

Emma. (2020) is AVAILABLE to STREAM

Watch the TRAILER
Rated PG

Lauren Cutrone is an essayist and poet based in New Jersey. Her work can be found in Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes: The Little Women Legacy and Women Speak: Portraits, Poetry, and Prose of the Feminine Experience, as well as online at websites such as The Mighty and HerStry. By day, Lauren works on the beautiful campus of Princeton University. By night, she’s most likely reading, writing, watching “Jeopardy!,” or pretending to be a contestant on “Great British Baking Show.”

If you enjoyed this post, wander over to The Period Films List. You’ll especially like our look at the Costumes in Emma (2020), and the Best Period Dramas: Regency Era List.