Looking for a palate-cleansing alternative to Oscars fare, kids movies and comic book spectacle? Then you can't go wrong with Emma, the vivacious new adaptation of Jane Austen's classic 1815 novel.
Music video veteran Autumn de Wilde helms an all-star cast, led by The Witch's Anya Taylor-Joy as the eponymous matchmaker, Emma Woodhouse. Interfering busybody Emma is forever arranging the love lives of those around her – but is this coming at the cost of her own happiness? The excellent supporting cast is rounded out by Johnny Flynn, Josh O'Connor, Miranda Hart, Mia Goth and Bill Nighy.
Critics agree that de Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton have done an excellent job in staying loyal to the source material, while also threading in grace notes of contemporary relevance.
"A largely faithful and unchallenging adaptation, beautifully staged and sharply acted by a cast adept at balancing wit and romance," writes Caryn James in The Hollywood Reporter. "It offers the charms of the familiar, welcome escapism in difficult times."
"Emma, with all her preening, gossipy self-love, is somehow the perfect Instagram-age heroine," says Kevin Maher in The Times. "Her actions in this adaptation and with Taylor-Joy's characterisation are not those of a giddy romantic obsessive, but of an unapologetic, empowered woman."
Writes Clarisse Loughrey in The Independent: "Taylor-Joy’s Emma has the same stern pout, snooty air, and confident stride of Clueless’s spoiled, Beverly Hills princess Cher Horowitz. But this isn’t a modern girl in old threads – it’s an unapologetic rendition of the heroine Austen once said 'no one but myself will much like'... De Wilde allows Austen’s characters to dance off the page and into the 21st century, as charming and lively as on the day they were created."
HeyUGuys writer Euan Franklin praises the film as "a gorgeously shot Jane Austen adaptation with balletic comedy, eccentric characters, and sexual bite."
And Indiewire writer David Ehrlich is also enthusiastic: "Emma only grows more assured (and symmetrical) as its namesake loses her balance, the pastel splendor of Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematography and the vocabulary-defying genius of costume designer Alexandra Byrne endowing this classic story with a new energy all its own. Highbury becomes dry enough to accommodate Nighy’s humor, Taylor-Joy finds a wonderful, furrowed take on her character amidst Emma’s confusion, and every member of de Wilde’s supporting cast manages to blend in to the film’s style."
Nevertheless, not everyone is impressed, including Empire's Ian Freer: "Tonally the film is all over the place, de Wilde never landing on a mood that can convince you Josh O’Connor’s broadly comic vicar Mr Elton and Johnny Flynn’s impressively intense Mr Knightley live in the same world. This schizophrenia spills over to the filmmaking. Sometimes it feels like de Wilde is going for a Wes Anderson formalism — a pastel colour palette, square-on compositions, a row of women in red capes looking like rejects from The Handmaid’s Tale — and other times it falls into a more bog-standard form of costume-drama filmmaking."