It's been 24 years since the last film adaptation of Jane Austen's 1815 novel, so 2020 seems as good a year as any to remake Emma. With a screenplay from author Eleanor Catton, photographer and former music video director Autumn de Wilde has served up a bright film adaptation highlighted by a spirited performance from Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split, Glass, Thoroughbreds).

Emma. also stars Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Josh O'Connor, Callum Turner, Rupert Graves, Gemma Whelan, Amber Anderson, Tanya Reynolds and Connor Swindells.

In case you're not familiar, Emma. follows a bright, young, beautiful woman as she uses her social skills to play matchmaker. In the meantime, she squabbles with a family friend/relative who seems to be the only person who's bold enough to criticize Emma's noble, yet somewhat shady tactics. It's a timeless tale of social class and social norms, not to mention it's a bit of a coming of age tale.

Emma Woodhouse (Taylor-Joy) takes a liking to setting up singles after her governess, Anne Taylor (Whelan), marries businessman Mr. Weston (Emma has taken credit for their pairing). With the now Mrs. Weston gone, Emma takes in young Harriet Smith (Goth) and looks to set her up with the town vicar, Mr. Philip Elton (O'Connor). Things get a little crazy as this person really likes that person, that person doesn't really like this person, one person is only trying to be nice to that person, and so on. The center of all this drama is Emma, who feels she can do no wrong despite being oblivious to certain things, naïve about other things and overall inexperienced when it comes to reading other people.

When it comes to Austen's popular novel, it seems this is one of the few titles in which it's perfectly okay to update every few years. Autumn de Wilde's vision resulted in a colorful film that gives this timeless story plenty of warmth and energy. Catton did a great job adapting the novel while making the material seem new, fresh and up to date. You would think Catton's screenwriting job would be easy, but appealing to the sensibilities of today's audiences, specifically younger viewers, is quite the task. Catton kept things lively and fun and there's enough humor to offset some slow scenes.

The obvious question is how effective would Taylor-Joy be as the titular character. In the past, well-known and respected actors like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale have donned the corset. Both have been praised for their performances, so the relative newcomer has some shoes to fill.

Not surprisingly, Taylor-Joy is fantastic. Although she's done mainly horror (and subsequently has become an iconic final girl in her own right), her work in Thoroughbreds prepared her for the maddening, but well-intentioned Emma. Taylor-Joy adds a little snarkiness that gives Emma some edge without being overly threatening. At the flip of a switch Taylor-Joy provides Emma charm because her heart is in the right place and,for example, she truly values her friendship (and mentorship) with Harriet. Plus, she's caring, although it seemingly only shows up when it comes to looking after her dad, Henry (Nighy), who's constantly concerned with his own health. This iteration of Emma resembles Alicia Silverstone's Cher in Clueless, the classic 1995 comedy (which is a loosely-based modernization of Austen's novel), although not as flighty.

The rest of the cast is memorable – Goth surprised me by playing an innocent, naïve, and all-too-trusting teenager at the cusp of adulthood, while the always-exceptional Nighy is hilarious and lovable. Flynn is good as Knightley, although he comes off more like a stern older brother than a possible suitor for *SPOILER ALERT* Emma.

I initially didn't understand the need for another version of Emma, but the Austen tale has reached Shakespeare status in regards to constant updates and remakes. Plus, if remakes like this one continue to provide a fresh and unique take, along with beautiful visuals and fine acting, then I gladly welcome it, just as I warmly welcome and recommend this fantastic feature.

4 stars out of 5


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