I feel I need to preface this review by starting with the incontestable fact of its breathtaking beauty. Huge props to the costume and production designers – the house is a pastel cake, spotless, coloured in sugary greens and pinks and blues, and Anya Taylor-Joy (who plays the titular Emma herself) a white frilled, extraordinarily beautiful doll in these sets, positioning herself always to show her best angles with her blonde ringlets spinning when she does. The fields are bright green and the skies are bright blue and every room is an overladen visual delight of wealth and perfect social order. I did want the dresses; I did want the five-tiered desserts.
Aesthetics aside, sadly, not very much happens. In this two-hour long movie, perhaps as an overarching social commentary of the upper class of the time, the drama seems in a word: silly.
In this beloved Austen tale, Emma, pampered and stuck in her rural town with her humorous hypochondriac father (played too well by Bill Nighy) as a big fish in a very small pond, decides to amuse herself by playing matchmaker to her new, wide-eyed orphan friend Harriet (Mia Goth) and creating interminable problems for everyone she knows in her arrogance. Meanwhile, she herself falls in love with the handsome outsider Frank Churchill, or is it the rather closer to home (and the also handsome) Mr Knightley? Ah, but Harriet loves him too! Can they ever be together?
My annoyance with this film – that did indeed have the potential to be charming and transporting – is its sugariness without content, and without even the good grace to be properly romantic.
Austen at her best is witty and cutting in her social observation of the minutiae of the English upper class of the Georgian period. This film, filled with strange pauses between woodenly delivered lines and pampered characters without a saving grace, leaves all of this behind to linger on the bon-bon coloured interiors.
Emma is in cinemas now.
Reviewed as Film of the Week, in partnership with Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh.