The world of Jane Austen holds a special place in the hearts of generations of readers who have latched on to her iconic characters and their place in literary history. The last novel Austen published before she died was Emma, a lighthearted tale dealing with typical Austen issues including marriage social status. The story has not been adapted to death on the silver screen, with only the mid-90s being the particular high point for the story with back-to-back adaptations; modernized teen classic Clueless and the traditional Gwyneth Paltrow adaptation Emma. Over twenty years later, first time director Autumn de Wilde has decided it is time to inject new life into the story with Emma. (never forget the period).
This latest adaptation finds the lovely Anya Taylor-Joy (Split) inhabiting the titular character, a 21-year old girl of good fortune who favors herself ever the matchmaker in her social circle. Following the successful union of her governess with the well-to-do Mr. Weston, Emma sets her sights on the young Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) to be her new companion and next matchmaking project. Harriet’s parentage is unknown, but Emma supposes she is the unclaimed child of a gentleman due to the fact that she was provided an education. After subtly advising Harriet to decline the proposal of Mr. Robert Martin (Connor Swindells), a handsome tenant farmer, Emma embarks on an ill-conceived plan to find someone who she is suitably matched in manner and status for her dear Harriet.
Although Emma loves to meddle in the romantic lives of others, her own romantic future remains somewhat in doubt. She hopefully believes she is going to marry Mr. Weston’s son whom she has never met, the ever-elusive Frank Churchill (Callum Turner). Then there’s also George Knightley (Johnny Flynn, Beast), a decent man who verbally spars with Emma and is close with her family. George knows the real Emma and tries to goad her into being the best version of herself. For newcomers to the story, it can be a bit overwhelming to keep track of all of the relationships and all of the mentions of characters we have yet to meet, but it all starts to click about forty minutes into the movie. There are more intricacies to the plot, but the thrust of the movie is Emma meddling in different relationships and having to face the consequences of her actions. The script maintains the high-minded manners common of the time period, but the deft direction from de Wilde keep the women from being an afterthought in their own lives.
The true joy of this movie is the care that the filmmaker has taken with crafting an emotionally satisfying version of the story to complement the breathtaking visuals. The character of Emma was described by Austen herself as a character that most people would not like, but Anya Taylor-Joy takes the, at times, bratty nature that comes with her demeanor and makes it palatable for the audience. There is not any maliciousness in her intent, only a lack of self-awareness. The growth of her character throughout the movie is gratifying. While the movie is very much concerned with romantic love, there is also a love between friends that cannot be undersold. Emma’s concern for Harriet is very touching and adds necessary layers to the character. The rest of the cast is also turning in top tier work including Bill Nighy, who brings a delicious oddity to the screen as Emma’s overly concerned father. The incredible Johnny Flynn gives a subtle gravitas to Mr. Knightley that allows you to know he is a man of character, but in a very human manner that makes him believable and swoon-worthy.
This is a film that is meticulously put together in the most precise manner by a woman who has the most excellent eye for detail. Every single aspect from the production design to the editing is sleek and flawless. There are shots in the movie that have a delicate choreography to how the characters are interacting with one another that is very engaging. The dialogue can be a bit dry at times, but those who appreciate the cutting wit of a good period piece will appreciate the journey. Those going into this movie should have a fairly good idea if this is something that has the possibility to appeal to them. Fans of the genre will find this a relaxing couple of hours where they are whisked away to a time of gorgeous costumes and sophisticated gatherings.
Emma. comes to Blu-Ray with an eye-popping 1080p presentation that pushes the format to its limit. The movie is visual painting filled with intricately decorated sets and gorgeous, detailed costumes that are presented with perfect clarity on this disc. From the many brightly lit scenes to the darker, candlelit sequences, the skin tones and facial details are incredibly rendered in a way you could almost mistake this for a 4K disc. Subtle details in the stitching of the costumes are readily visible, as well as individual hairs from the varied hairstyles presented in the film. Colors from the bold costumes pop off the screen alongside the beautiful English countryside. Black levels are very deep and never betray the objects on screen. This is a gorgeous presentation that perfectly showcases a beautifully shot film that deserves such treatment.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track presented here is a lovely sounding experience that brings the movie to life. Being a Jane Austen adaptation, the film is primarily dialogue driven with a jaunty score from David Schweitzer and Isobel Waller-Bridge (sister of Phoebe). Dialogue comes through crystal clear at all times without being overshadowed by any of the subtle nature sounds or the score. The score is bright and lovely, but is precise in its placement throughout the room as it slowly envelops the audience. There is not a ton of activity in the low end, but what is there is rendered well. There is a nice amount of sonic detail in the surround channels including chirping birds and delicate wind that makes the world fully realized. This was never meant to be a barnburner, but it does everything it needs to do incredibly well.
- Deleted Scenes: Ten deleted scenes totaling thirteen minutes are included here including some amusing scenes with Bill Nighy that probably would have slowed down the movie, but would have given some more laughs. Most of the scenes are understandably extraneous, but worth a watch.
- Gag Reel: A nearly eleven-minute gag reel that shows a lot of flubbed takes and actors being silly on set. One of my favorite gag reels I have seen in some time.
- A Playful Tease: A five-minute look into developing and casting the characters with the cast and crew. There are some fun anecdotes including details on Anya Taylor-Joy and Mia Goth’s real-life friendship prior to this movie.
- The Autumn Gaze: A five-minute love-fest centered on first time director Autumn de Wilde with the cast and crew. There are some interesting notes about Autumn’s previous work and how she used her strong visual style to shape the movie.
- Crafting A Colorful World: A five-minute deep dive into the production design of the film and how it sold the entire experience for those working on the movie.
- Audio Commentary: Director Autumn de Wilde is joined by screenwriter Eleanor Catton and Director of Photography Christopher Blauvelt to discuss the story on a narrative and visual level. It can be slightly dry sometimes, but there are interesting observations for those who want to learn more about the movie.
Emma. is an endearing adaptation of a literary classic that pays tribute to the text while embracing a modern day spirit that keeps the story fresh. The movie is beautiful to behold with director Autumn de Wilde bringing her impressive visual style to the proceedings. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has given this disc a fantastic Audio/Visual presentation to go along with some entertaining extras. Fans of Jane Austen or period pieces in general should find great joy in this adaptation. Recommended
Emma. is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.