Emma adds a sexy spin to the story’s simpering staleness

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By Daisy Game, Entertainment Subeditor

So? Is Emma (2020) all as gorgeous as we might expect? Well - Autumn De Wilde can rest easy over this one: everything looks pretty darn fabulous.

All peachy blush and lace trim, creamy marble busts and lavish silken screens: the auditorium chatters with appreciative ooohs and aaahs as mansion doors are held aloft, gardens are preened and primped. It is Austen, after all – and what’s Austen without a late afternoon sojourn around the estate, darling? Before supper is served? Well indeed.

Anya Taylor-Joy's Emma is both 'fabulously stroppy' and eerily picturesque in one | IMDb / Courtesy of Box Hill Films / Focus Features

So - grandiose visuals? Check. But what about our actors? How do they fair with that pithy, sharp tongued wit of England’s best Romantic Comedy novelist? Well - it’s a mixed bag - let’s start from the top. Anya Taylor-Joy’s ever-interfering eponymous heroine, our own Emma, is a tricky one.

Yes, Taylor-Joy is an expert at the haughty-bottom-lip-pout which – granted – is pretty apt and pretty amusing for our infamously haughty Emma. She’s appropriately showy and ever-so-determined for things to go precisely her way, and those pursed lips do a good job in getting the stroppy side of our match-maker across. Taylor-Joy’s Emma is fabulously stroppy - making sure to flick an outraged head of shivering ringlets this way or that - 18th century foot stamp equivalent - every other scene or so.

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It just feels as though the pout - the strange stiffness with which Taylor-Joy plays - might have sagged a little more often, or a little sooner? It’s tricky to put any kind of decided finger on. Perhaps it is simply that, all too often, Emma seems to resemble the statuesque idols littered up and down her many - many - staircases more than she does a living, breathing young woman.

The romance in Emma is tangible and tingles with more than the usual | IMDb / Courtesy of Box Hill Films / Focus Features

But then again - might this be De Wilde’s slip up? She is after all a photographer, known by most for her wild and wonderful portrait shots. So maybe it’s worth considering whether this statuesque creature of an Emma we get - picturesque beauty that she is - may have been the product of a momentarily confused director? ‘Oh! Yes! This one’s supposed to move!’ one imagines a shocked De Wilde exclaiming.

Man of your dreams about to reveal his undying love? A stream of blood from nostril to lip might not be the look to opt for!

To give the director her due - we do eventually get the sense that she is, perhaps, more aware of her slightly-too-still lead than we might initially appreciate. In one rather brilliantly conceived moment, Taylor-Joy loses her porcelain composure thanks to an untimely – and rather fantastic - nosebleed incident.

Torn between allegiance to her adopted-pet-turned-real-life-pal Harriet, and confession of her love for Johnny Flynn’s dashing Mr Knightley, Emma finally loses her cool - a frantic red streak erupting from her nose and feathering down her lip. Man of your dreams about to reveal his undying love? A stream of blood from nostril to lip might not be look to opt for!

The cast of Emma include the likes of Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart in very unfamiliar roles | IMDb / Courtesy of Box Hill Films / Focus Features

It’s a really sharp few minutes, and almost convinced me that De Wilde was fully aware of her almost too carefully crafted Emma all along. While Emma herself might not sparkle with quite as much zing as we might have liked - pair her up with Flynn’s charming grump Knightey, and well - it’s a bit of a game changer.

There are some who don’t prescribe to that age old ‘chemistry’ argument – ‘I don’t know if I believe in chemistry’, Carey Mulligan once told the never-not-in-hysterics Lynn Hirschberg. To those I say: ‘ha! Just you watch – juuust you look at Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn as they lock eyes across the village-inn-come-high-society-ball-floor’.

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Fingers quiver, cheek bones sharpen and lips pout as our star-crossed-lover’s-light bulb is ceremoniously lit… could we… is it possible… might we have been... in love?! This whole time?! Oh! But we thought we hated each other so! It’s an utterly fabulous scene, and truly earns the film its ‘worth-a-watch’ badge.

Sex Education (2019-) regular Tanya Reynolds also joins this distinctly British cast | IMDb / Courtesy of Box Hill Films / Focus Features

And De Wilde’s lesson in chemistry doesn’t stop there. It’s all a little more sexed up than usual. Long gone are the prim and proper Gwyneth Paltrows – the blushing-BBC Roma Garais: Taylor-Joy takes command of her womanly wiles in a pretty refreshing manner.

In one slightly naughy moment, Emma pops a bright, ripe red berry to her lips, catching Knightley’s eye as she does so - accidentally on purpose flirting tactic nailed: and sends him into a very amusing musn’t-make-further-eye-contact flat spin. Their onscreen repartee is a thing of wonder.

Emma seems to resemble the statuesque idols littered up and down her many - many - staircases more than she does a living, breathing young woman

It’s fun – flirty – frothy. A little sexier than usual. It’s still Austen – many a gasp over inappropriate romantic and or social conquests, many a stroll through the husband-to-be’s rolling estate grounds, darling – but then – I’m a sucker for that, and I always will be. Bring on the next adaptation I say – before I start bashing the cutlery on the table cloth - and risk receiving some very disapproving looks from Miss Emma herself.

Featured: IMDb / Courtesy of Box Hill Films / Focus Features


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