These days, it’s not the easiest for me to view several heavy feature films or documentary series in a row, despite there being so many good ones out right now. After last week’s viewing of Spike Lee’s latest film, “Da 5 Bloods,” I let the pendulum swing in another direction when choosing what to view next. I went with the modern re-telling of a classic.
Classics and stories which have withstood the test of time provide some comfort in these uncertain days.
Jane Austen’s “Emma,” which was written over 200 years ago in 1815, is a story that has gone through several retellings on screen. The mid-90’s saw director Amy Heckerling take on Emma via the 1995 hit flick “Clueless,” starring Alicia Silverstone and the ageless Paul Rudd. One year later, a version with Gwyneth Paltrow was released in theaters and another one with Kate Beckinsale was released as TV film.
Here we are 25 years later with a fresh new version helmed by music video director and rock photographer, Autumn de Wilde. At 49 years old, this is her first feature film. It was released in the US on February 21 of this year and did not have much of a run as cinemas were shuttered due to the pandemic.
Actress Anya Taylor-Joy describes her character, Emma, as a “Queen Bee” of a small town. She’s “entitled” and thinks “everything is her doll’s house, [and] she can pull the strings and make everyone do what she wants.” She tries to have a hand in the marriage prospects of her friend Harriet Smith, first by trying to match her with Mr. Elton, the village vicar (played by Josh O’Connor who was such a standout as Prince Charles in Season 3 of “The Crown).
This ends in disaster — along with much of her other maneuverings. Emma soon realizes, she can’t really predict or control how other people will behave and she can’t force all these outcomes she often naïvely envisions.
Despite her many flaws, she tries to learn and make up for all the times she messes up. She is that way, but she is also work in progress.
Bill Nighy is such as joy as Emma’s dad. No matter how Emma’s little schemes fall apart and how much more she has to learn about life, she really is devoted to her father — above all else.
Sometimes, while looking at beautifully shot visions of the English countryside and seeing the outstanding work of award winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne, it’s very easy to think of this world as such an unreal and out of reach one. Cinematically, it just seems so perfect.
Still, we also try to think of the times Jane Austen grew up on. She was quite the social commentator in her books. She could not be so blunt and direct, she was clever and used a dash of comedy and satire to reveal her observations on marriage, feminism and aristocracy. I still have to figure how the lens of the post pandemic and protest world might view Austen — but her observations and stories have withstood the test of time.
The soundtrack, composed Isobel Waller Bridge (sister of “Fleabag’s” Phoebe) has music that’s just perfect for the film including the most amazing folk tunes that give a fantastic sense of mood and character for each scene.
Emma is available via Amazon Prime Video and iTunes.