Director: Autumn de Wilde
Writer: Eleanor Catton
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Josh O’Connor, Johnny Flynn
Genre: Comedy / Drama
In 1800s England rich and spoilt Emma Woodhouse (Taylor-Joy) lives a very comfortable life, so spends her time matchmaking those around her, however her often misguided and meddlesome tactics and ideas have unexpected consequences.
It seems that every year we are provided with a new cinematic version of a Jane Austen novel, and the reasons for this are obvious as they are timeless and famous stories that tend to be guaranteed to score big at the box office. Though they are timeless stories, there is certainly a chance for the filmmakers to perhaps keep the historical setting but still add a more contemporary or topical spin on many of the timeless themes that can certainly still be relevant today, or go for a completely modern setting such as in 1995’s Clueless.
This particular adaptation of Emma may have decided to for the mildly pretentious step of adding a full stop in the title, but it keeps the historical setting in quite a substantial way, with an incredibly ostentatious set design that is brought to life in a very colourful way by both Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematography and Alexandra Byrne’s costume design. However, beneath the excessive and almost intoxicating substance is a film that plays things very safe and actually contains very little substance. To accuse all of the narrative developments of Emma dot of being neat, tidy and painfully predictable may same like a lazy criticism considering how famous the story is, but it would be nice for the film to try some interesting things instead of giving us what is actually (when watched from a modern point of view) a very simple story about a rather unlikeable wealthy individual meddling with the love lives of her fellow wealthy friends and acquaintances.
Thankfully the film’s main saving grace is its cast; all involved deliver superb performances that elevate the very lacklustre character development that just presents them all as very lazily written two-dimensional caricatures. As the film’s titular protagonist Anya Taylor-Joy once again proves just how a talented and diverse actress she is, with a performance of great energy and spark. Though her character is often quite manipulative and arrogant, Taylor-Joy does at least make the character quite compelling, and she shares great on-screen chemistry with a lot of her co-stars. Proving that his superb performance in Beast was certainly no one-off, Johnny Flynn exudes charisma as Mr Knightley. The rest of the cast are all given their own individual moments to shine to show off their talents and make their characters slightly distinctive. However, for me the star of the film is Mia Goth; as Emma’s (sort of) friend who is much poorer than our protagonist (in several ways) she gets just right the balance of innocence, naivety and enthusiasm of her character, and probably the only one with any genuinely relatable characteristics. We may wish to be like these disgustingly wealthy and beautiful characters, but can we actually relate to them? Not really.
Eleanor Catton’s script does also have some very funny moments that takes full advantage of the actors’ talents; often through the subtext of mere expressions and looks given at one another. There are some moments that feature Wes Anderson-esque camerawork where a camera pans across the (very large and extravagant) room from one character to another. In a film where many scenes consist of various characters either being angry or in love with another (or both), this proves to be a very effective cinematic technique. Likewise, one of the film’s main scenes involving a dance is brimming with subtext, and though the extremely predictable nature of the narrative means there are no great revelations, it is still a very well-staged scene.
However, I would also use the same notion of ‘well-staged’ as the main criticism of Emma Decimal Point; everything is so painfully neat and tidy (another Wes Anderson similarity) that it almost becomes alienating. The set design and camerawork may be visually stunning, but it sometimes feels that we are just being given a two-hour tour of stately homes, as the camera definitely feels like it lingers for way too long just to marvel at the grandiose interiors. Due to this slight level of self-indulgence, it not only produces a film that is longer and slower paced than it should have been, but one that is occasionally quite alienating.
Though Emma Full Stop is often an entertaining and perfectly watchable film, despite the great performances it is ultimately no more than that and is so just a harmless period romp that serves as perfectly passable escapism with the occasional laugh, but no more. It is certainly not a film that will linger long in the memory.
Plenty of style and but very little substance; Emma features some great performances and individually funny moments that makes sure it is a watchable enough film, but its predictable and safety first narrative (combined with a camera that seems to be obsessed with the set design) renders it highly forgettable.