Updated: May 29, 2020
To rework the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a woman with the good fortune to adore Jane Austen books, must be in want of yet another movie made from one of them.” And to meet that desire, director Autumn de Wilde provides yet another version of Emma, Austen’s clueless heroine who fancies herself a matchmaker despite the numerous blind spots about love she repeatedly exhibits.
Austen feared that no one besides herself would much like the character, but Emma transcends bad behavior and misjudgments because she truly means well. Working with a screenplay by Eleanor Catton, director de Wilde captures the book and character’s charm, providing a light veneer of current sensibility without modernizing or significantly changing the piece.
Anya Taylor-Joy eases smoothly into a role already played on the big screen by Gwyneth Paltrow…and sort of by Alicia Silverstone too, since Emma and her meddling antics turn up in the movie Clueless. While Clueless goes through its own revamping process as a Broadway play and upcoming remake, Emma harkens back to Austen requirements: Elegant mansions. Sprawling countryside. Formal dancing. A handsome male lead willing to deal with a beefcake shot, in this case, a bare backside.
But foremost for this new Emma: colorful clothes; the era’s expected umpire dresses for ladies, and high-collared shenanigans for the gents. This version stands out with a courting bird’s sense of costume and display ranging from prints to pastel candy shades. Clothes and sets never fail to astound, from simple village dwellings to overwhelming rich men’s mansions or feathery accoutrements for peacock outfits. And throughout the cacophony of clothing colors, action manages to move forward at a spritely pace as amusing situations arise on cue. The universal acknowledgement continues: Jane Austen knew how to write a fun movie.