'Emma.' (2020) - Movie Review

I'm a fan of the book, and this is the fourth version of Emma I've seen (not counting "Clueless," which I've also seen). I should think of them by their directors, but who remembers? It's so much easier to remember who played Emma. Today, we examine the Taylor-Joy version.

As I've mentioned previously, there's a particularly tricky thing about Emma: the title character is obnoxiously meddlesome, but also very charming. The actress (and director and editor and ...) have to create a character who embodies both of these things simultaneously, or the plot makes no sense - particularly why people like her, and why Knightley would fall for her.

Anya Taylor-Joy is passable in the lead - I think she's better suited to non-period dramas, where I've seen her act better. But it doesn't matter much because her performance is drowned out by a plot that's become almost a farce in the first half as they turn Emma's obnoxiousness up to 11, and ditto Mr. Elton's bad behaviour. Harriet Smith (played by Mia Goth) is Emma's companion for most of the movie, but leaves little impression. And, contrary to the book and most other adaptations, the music and the looks and the touching all tell us that Knightley and Emma fall for each other at the dance slightly past the midpoint of the movie. Which is difficult to fit into the plot because it happens prior to Emma's flirtation with Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), which she and Knightley refer to later.

For hard-core Austen fans, you'll be be disappointed by the lack of text written by Jane Austen. They follow Austen's plot, but the words coming out of the character's mouths are rarely those put down by Austen. Austen was one of the English language's greatest prose stylists: to successfully rewrite her text, you have to be very good. And the script-writers on this movie weren't up to the task.

For fans of Bill Nighy (I'm among them), you'll be disappointed to find that while he's cast as Emma's father, he's completely wasted. He has about five spoken lines in the entire movie.

Badly structured and badly thought out, this one is better than the Paltrow version, but falls well below the Garai and Beckinsale versions.