MATCHMAKING: Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is escorted by her father Mr Woodhouse (Bill Nighy).

Emma

  • Comedy drama; Cert PG, contains nudity; 2hr 5mins
  • Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Bill Nighy, Miranda Hart, Josh O’Connor, Rupert Graves, Gemma Whelan, Amber Anderson, Tanya Reynolds and Connor Swindells
  • Director: Autumn de Wilde

THEY never get Mr Knightley right.

Emma is one of the most comedic and therefore popular and accessible of Jane Austin’s novels.

Its one downfall has always been, for me at least, the age difference of the two main leads.

In the novel, much is made of the fact that this dignified gentleman was a young man when Emma was born and has lovingly watched her grow into the handsome and haughty young woman she is.

Subsequently, he has always – from a modern perspective, at least – had something of a creepy uncle vibe, or the romanic hero for women with daddy issues.

In previous adaptations he has been played to be old, unattractive and even quite crusty, depite being only 37 to Emma’s 21. This time around they have overcorrected.

Gone entirely is the stiff-upper-lipped, mature gentleman – replaced with foppish youth Johnny Flynn (Lovesick).

The closest Flynn gets to a disapproving glower over Emma behaving as a spoilt brat, is a pouty lower lip. He is handsome but callow and would have made a far better Frank Churchill than a Mr Knightly.

His relationship to Emma is more of an older brother figure, which comes with its own set of taboos to break through, though they are only related by marriage.

The rest of the cast is perfect. Anna Taylor-Joy, who starred in 2017s Thoroughbreds opposite Anton Yelchin as a scheming, privileged teen, makes a wonderful Emma.

Bill Nighy is priceless as Emma’s nervous, draught-obssessed father and Miranda Hart was born to play the irritatingly vague and verbose Miss Bates.

Mia Goth also shows tremendous comedic talent as the slightly vacant and simple Harriet, who is the subject of Emma’s matchmaking machinations.

Sets and costumes are suptuous and prove once again to be one of the reasons Georgian Regency England is such ripe fodder for film adaptations.

This sort of genteel comedy of manners – when the most exciting occurance is someone being slightly insulting – is tricky to pull off well.

With enough cheeky nudity to put the ladies’ fans ashiver, this lighthearted adaptation makes a fun addition to its host of predecessors.

I just hope that one day someone might do justice to the potentially very romantic hero.

8/10

diane.mccarthy@thebeacon.co.nz

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