Montag, 16. März 2020


Sitting decorously at the intersection of stately and irreverent, photographer Autumn de Wilde's debut feature – an adaptation of Jane Austen's 1815 novel Emma – is neither as idiosyncratic as it could be nor as stuffy as these kinds of adaptations of prestigious source material often are.

On the whole, director de Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton, herself a Booker Prize-winning novelist (The Luminaries), prove a fine duo to tackle one of the most enduring works of English literature, as they display a keen understanding for what makes Austen such a perennial favourite. Their Emma – stylised as Emma. on the title card, the full stop allegedly marking it as a "period piece" – is a romantic comedy with the emphasis on the comedy; a decision perfectly in tune with Austen's tendency to mock rather than lionise her protagonists' comparatively low-stakes misadventures among the Regency period's landed gentry.

Emma is a case in point: the titular heroine, played with wit, panache, and bubbly naïveté by Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split), is, in Austen's own words, "handsome, clever, and rich ... and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." So when Emma's governess and best friend (Gemma Whelan) is married off to a kindly neighbouring landlord (Rupert Graves), the young woman befriends a parentless girl (Mia Goth) and starts fancying herself a master matchmaker.

Naturally, this claim will soon come to haunt both her and the sizeable supporting cast, which features some choice performances: Bill Nighy is a phlegmatic delight as Emma's shivering father; Josh O'Connor's foppish vicar feels like a more youthful spin on Rowan Atkinson's Father Gerald from Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994); and Miranda Hart delivers an arrestingly multi-layered turn as Miss Bates, a hilarious caricature of a blissfully oblivious bore, who comes to signify Emma's realisation that her view of the world may not actually correspond to the real state of things all that much.

Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) tries her hand at being a matchmaker – with mixed results.
© Universal Pictures International Switzerland
That the story's primary love interest – gallant George Knightley, played by folk musician Johnny Flynn – ultimately finds himself among the less interesting figures vying for narrative attention here is par for the course for a film based on an 1810s novel of manners. And although this weakens the development of the romance that eventually emerges, Flynn is affable enough to make the inevitable resolution seem sweet rather than anticlimatic – something Matthias Schoenaerts, for instance, wasn't quite able to convey in Thomas Vinterberg's Far from the Madding Crowd (2015), which dampened the impact of an otherwise majestic Thomas Hardy adaptation.

De Wilde's Emma, in short, is a lark – an upbeat, frequently very funny, and visually pleasing take on an established classic. But as the film keeps piling on the minor disturbances in the characters' supremely bearable slightness of being, it starts to beg the question whether all of this really warrants a runtime of over two hours, also given its extremely leisurely pace. This impression is compounded by the fact that neither de Wilde nor Catton go as far in their engagement with (literary) history as one feels they could, for while issues of class and gender do crop up – as they are wont to do in an Austen plot – they are never subjected to the kind of modern scrutiny Greta Gerwig employed so incisively in Little Women (2019). Still, as romantic comedies go, Emma is unquestionably among the better offerings in recent memory.


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