It is a truth universally acknowledged that a period drama in possession of good production values must be in want of a discerning audience

Emma. promenades onto the screen with a playful sense of sensuality beneath its Regency ruffles, a delightful dance of wit and style that pays homage to Jane Austen’s sharp social observations and enduring humour. Directed by Autumn de Wilde, this adaptation is a vibrant tableau of early 19th-century England, where propriety reigns supreme but passion simmers just beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered in stolen glances and subtle gestures.

Anya Taylor-Joy graces us with her portrayal of Emma Woodhouse, the self-assured and meddlesome heroine who navigates the picturesque, pastel-hued world of Highbury with an air of entitled confidence. Taylor-Joy captures Emma’s charm and flaws in equal measure, making her both endearing and infuriating, just as Austen intended. Emma, of course, fancies herself a master matchmaker, orchestrating romantic entanglements for her friends and neighbours with little regard for the chaos she might unleash and when Mia Goth’s Harriet Smith becomes the unwitting subject of Emma’s schemes, Johnny Flynn’s George Knightley watches with a mix of amusement and exasperation, his steady presence providing a counterpoint to Emma’s capriciousness.

Visually, Emma. is a feast for the senses. The film’s cinematography, handled with deft precision by Christopher Blauvelt, brings to life the lush English countryside and the opulent interiors, each frame meticulously composed like a candy-coloured period painting. The costumes, designed by Alexandra Byrne, are a riot of colour and detail, capturing the extravagance and elegance of a romanticised Regency era. The production design immerses the viewer in a world where every piece of furniture, every fabric, and every landscape is a testament to the film’s commitment to authenticity.

Yet beneath the surface elegance, there is a simmering energy, a tension that de Wilde masterfully teases out, particularly in the formal dance scenes. Here, Emma. is at its most mischievous, with the choreography of social manners hinting at the unspoken desires and suppressed passions of its characters and the Westons’ grand ball positively crackles with sexual tension, adding a layer of complexity and modernity to the story.

In comparison to the lush extravagance of Netflix’s Bridgerton or the anachronistic wit of Apple TV’s Dickinson, Emma. can hold its head high, confident in its own distinctive charm. While Bridgerton embraces a wonderfully modern sense and sensibility with its diverse casting and contemporary flair, Emma. remains more wedded to its period authenticity, appealing to Austen purists with its dedication to detail. And unlike Dickinson, which reimagines its historical subject with a bold, modern twist, Emma. remains true to the spirit of Austen’s original work, albeit with a vibrant, fresh energy that brings the old world to life in new ways.

Finding a place for itself some 25 years after the one-two punch of 1995’s Clueless and 1996’s Emma, Autumn de Wilde’s Emma. leaves its mark as a visually stunning, charmingly acted piece that captures the essence of Austen’s world, even if it occasionally sacrifices emotional depth for aesthetic beauty. Anya Taylor-Joy’s spirited performance, supported by a talented ensemble, ensures that this adaptation remains a delightful journey into romanticised Regency England

emma review
Score 10/10

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