Autumn de Wilder offers an Emma. with a contemporary sensibility but not much sense
“Mother, you MUST sample the tart!”
You don’t see Jane Austen much at the theatre. Her situation notwithstanding, over the years I think I’ve only seen a single Pride and Prejudice and a vibrant Persuasion (plus countless Austentatious inventions), adaptations of her work just don’t seem to pop up in theatres with much regularity at all. I wonder why that is for there’s certainly no lack of them on our screens.
I wasn’t much of a fan of the Gwyneth Paltrow-starring film but loved both the TV versions I’ve seen with Kate Beckinsdale and particularly with Romola Garai. This latest iteration of Emma., directed by Autumn de Wilde and adapted by Eleanor Catton, only hit cinemas recently but due to coronavirus restrictions, found its way pleasingly quickly onto on-demand services.
Something about it really didn’t sit well with me from the off though, de Wilde employing a tweeness of tone that points as much to Anderson (Wes) as Austen and there’s an archness to the whole affair that I found most distracting. Anya Taylor-Joy’s Emma very much plays up the spoiled brat privilege of her queen bee heroine but there’s little affection to go with it, no hint of winning charm that might suggest you can forgive her her ways. The post-Box Hill scenes in particular just don’t work, as her apology tour is about as sincere as Priti Patel.
It doesn’t help that there’s such varied work around her. Bill Nighy (as Emma’s father) and Miranda Hart (as Miss Bates) both do well but seem to have received not a lick of direction, Josh O’Connor is miscast as the bumbling vicar, and whether his arse is out or no, my Johnny Flynn feelings remain unchanged, his Mr Knightley lacking the crucial chemistry with Emma to make you root for their endgame. It’s fun to see the likes of Anna Francolini and Oliver Chris pop up for cameos, and Gemma Whelan is customarily brilliant, but this is not the Emma for me.