Emma. ★★★½

2020 Ranked

The work of Jane Austen hardly needs an introduction. Nor does her oft-adapted Emma, which has returned in 2020 courtesy of director Autumn de Wilde. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse, Emma is a perfectly capable, funny, and romantic take on Austen’s work that may not be as funny as some of the best recent Austen adaptations (Love & Friendship) or as romantic (Pride and Prejudice), but nonetheless is quite successful. For Emma Woodhouse, life is laid out before her. She is certainly pompous and selfish, more focused on controlling others to benefit herself than to help them find happiness too. An impressively presented and apt film for the moment, Emma is a welcome return to Austen’s comedy of manners and regal upper-class world.

Emma presents an individualistic and selfish protagonist. She will cut down an innocent person at a moment’s notice when her patience wears thin. When her governess gets a proposal of marriage and turns to her for advice, she will subtly guide her towards a no in order to keep her from marrying a man who is “beneath her”. All around town, she tries to play matchmaker to keep her governess Harriet (Mia Goth) away from whichever man is drawing her attention. If a young man approaches her in earnest to express his love for her, she cuts him down too and embarrasses him for even daring. She is a misguided, selfish, and loathsome person at times, something that her brother-in-law George Knightley (Johnny Flynn) sees through. Both, to be clear, are upper-class and regal in their movements but Knightley does not carry himself with quite the same airs. This can bring them to conflict as it does throughout, but it can also ignite within them a passion that guides Emma towards her realization of her destructive behavior. Not only is she keeping those around her more miserable to keep her world unchanged, she is also destroying her own happiness.

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