During the first ten minutes of Emma, the confused me was conjuring humorous blog titles, like N.E.mma, (enema, get it?), but then I got it, as in understood who the characters were and what in goodness name the plot was actually about.
And being an occasional playwright and screenwriter myself, means needing the audience to hang in there long enough to figure it out. You can’t hand out Cliff notes ahead of time to explain everything to folks who haven’t read Austen since college or ever.
In fact, in the major ball scene, I daresay I am on the record to vouche for Emma being a better film than Little Women, as relatively new screenwriter Eleanor Catton and first feature length director Autumn de Wilde ingrained in Emma what Billy Joel sang about, and Greta Gerwig failed at, which is “Leave a Tender Moment Alone”. The dance sequences and near romantic teases were far more evocative than any Gerwig managed. So bravo to the new crew in Hollywood.
Acting wise, Anya Taylor-Joy, while not aesthetically pleasing to me, did a honest job portraying an entitled brat. Johnny Flynn makes up for Taylor-Joy’s missing charisma and is wonderful as Emma’s hopeful suitor. Bill Nighy was a joy as Emma’s germaphobe father. And Josh O’Connor had a special sparkle despite his goofy character. And sure enough, on further inspection the guy’s already racked up two lead actor British Independent Film Awards. I’ll be sure to catch up on his award winning performances (God’s Own Country and Only You).
The cinematography and production were also crisper and more authentic than Little Women. The minor characters while at times a bit clunky at least seemed more human than L.W.’s Lauran Dern (who simply can’t do 19th century) and Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk.
Bravo to Emma for making us feel for conflicts nearly 200 years old and going from enema to gem-ma in a mere two hours.