Jane Austen's "Emma" is a timeless tale of romance and comedic misunderstandings. Despite having been released more than 200 years ago, the novel still resonates today, thanks to its universal themes, sharp characterizations, social commentary, and identifiable scenarios. "Emma" has been adapted several times in a number of formats. The 1996 movie version even helped catapult a young Gwyneth Paltrow to superstardom, while the teen comedy CLUELESS (released a year earlier) borrowed its plot from Austen's classic.
Now, a new EMMA is heading to theatres. This splashy adaptation is from Universal's Focus Features imprint, and it just feels like the perfect time for a new take on the beloved literary treasure. Here's why.
[Image credit: Focus Features]
The excellent teaser trailer shows that this movie maintains all of what made the Austen novel fun: Snappy dialogue, slapstick humor, and a high level of energy. But it also seems to be elevated and embellished for modern audiences. The font and the painterly background of the title card calls to mind the work of indie darling Wes Anderson, while the spirited compositions and energy remind us of the Oscar-winning THE FAVOURITE, a movie that winningly upended costume drama conventions.
Plus, the cast features Bill Nighy, one of the most droll and entertaining British actors around, commenting on a priest's pronunciation of "innocence." That's what we'd call an evergreen joke — it works in any era. We see a lot of period dramas and literary adaptations, but this one seems to channel a more modern sensibility, even reaching out to those who only know the story via CLUELESS. The poster says that Emma is "Awesome, clever and rich," and the official synopsis refers to her as a "queen bee." Welcome to the future, Emma!
One of the chief reasons this is the perfect time for a new EMMA is that the filmmakers can cast an actress like Anya Taylor-Joy. She grabbed everyone's attention with her arresting work in THE WITCH, in which she played a young woman whose pilgrim family has been banished to a ramshackle home adjacent to some very haunted woods. Taylor-Joy seemed like she had stepped directly out of the past, with her open, expressive face and flawless delivery of the film's period-perfect dialogue.
Since then, she has been just as remarkable in a series of more modern films, including two M. Night Shyamalan projects (SPLIT and GLASS) and the dark comedy THOROUGHBREDS. Her character in THOROUGHBREDS probably prepared her for her work in EMMA, since she played a spoiled young girl with a wicked sense of humor.
2020 is shaping up to be a very big year for Taylor-Joy. She also stars in LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, the new thriller from BABY DRIVER director Edgar Wright, and her superhero horror movie, THE NEW MUTANTS, will arrive from Fox and Disney. So EMMA should kick off her year with a bang. Taylor-Joy is one of the most exciting actresses working right now, and she brings an incredible amount of excitement to this new EMMA.
Most adaptations of the story have been made by men, although CLUELESS was directed by the wonderful Amy Heckerling. What makes this new EMMA so quietly revolutionary is that its behind-the-scenes roster is full of creative, brilliant women in key positions.
This new EMMA adaptation was directed by Autumn de Wilde, an influential American photographer, who makes her big-screen directing debut. The screenplay is by Booker Prize-winning New Zealand novelist Eleanor Catton. And the score is by FLEABAG composer Isobel Waller-Bridge, the big sister of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne, who has done work for everything from Cate Blanchett's ELIZABETH to Marvel Studios' AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, provides the new movie's threads. To have a new version of EMMA staffed with so many powerful creative women would surely tickle Austen and certainly sets it apart — and that all makes EMMA one of our most anticipated February movies!
All images courtesy of Focus Features.