Review: ‘Emma.’ Proves Cosmically Wonderful

GRAPHIC ILLUSTRATION BY LARA FOLEY/THE OBSERVER

By CLEO PAPADOPOULOS, Staff Writer

Fans of Jane Austen and film alike will be happy to know that the wait is over for “Emma.” It is the newest film adaptation of Austen’s acclaimed novel, directed by Autumn de Wilde. The film, which opened in theaters on Feb. 21, tells the story of Emma, a notorious gossip and ignorant but well-intentioned matchmaker who meddles in the lives of her friends but refuses to marry herself. 

As an Austen fan myself, I was counting down the days to its release, and it did not disappoint. Anya Taylor-Joy does a marvelous job of portraying the lovely protagonist Emma Woodhouse — a complex and flawed young woman who spends a majority of the film trying to find love for other people but is ultimately blindsided by true love and its unmatchable power. She discovers it in Mr. George Knightley, her brother-in-law, friend and eventual love interest, played by Johnny Flynn. 

Flynn’s character functions as a shoulder to lean on and an emblem of true morality as he helps Emma navigate her journey of self-discovery. Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Josh O’Connor and Callum Turner also star in the film as Mr. Woodhouse (Emma’s father), Harriet Smith (Emma’s best friend), Mr. Elton and Mr. Frank Churchill, respectively.

Exceptionally unique directing, production design, cinematography and music come together to create a nuanced and dreamlike masterpiece. Every move and glance from the actors, color on the screen, elegant camera shot and unique tune worked magic to create one the most visually appealing and all-around satisfying films that I’ve seen in a long time. 

The added benefit of seeing “Emma.” on the big screen makes the viewer want to jump into the 19th century reality of the film; it was two hours of complete beauty — particularly the scene of Emma and Mr. Knightley dancing at the ball among other guests. The synchrony of their movements and elegance of their attire made the scene completely unforgettable.

I must talk about the magnificent costume design. Costume designer Alexandra Byrne, famous for her work on Marvel movies like “The Avengers” (2012) and “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014), as well as other period pieces like “Mary Queen of Scots” (2018) and “Hamlet” (1996), outdid herself with the costumes in “Emma.” Each garment was elegant and ethereal — it left me wishing that I had access to Emma’s closet. The costume design was undoubtedly one of the most crucial and riveting parts of film to examine.

AMC Lincoln Square 13 held a Q&A for the viewers following the movie’s premiere. Taylor-Joy herself appeared to discuss the making of the film, stating that it felt “very cosmic” and “very fated.” She said that each moment on set was truly exciting, challenging and serendipitous, as all the actors continuously learned and benefited from one another’s talents.

Taylor-Joy was excited about playing Emma exactly the way that Jane Austen had conceived her: “a character that nobody but herself would much like.” She was thrilled to play Emma as someone who has a “magical quality” about her, but “is also a bit of a brat … and she’s spoiled and she’s annoying.” Those types of characters — the raw and flawed ones — always seem to me to be the most real, and they are what make films so enticing.

“Emma.” will continue to play at the AMC movie theater just a few blocks from campus on Broadway between 67th and 68th Streets. At the very least, you will walk away with a desire to dress like you live in 19th-century England, or you’ll have the melody of Johnny Flynn’s “Queen Bee” (a song written about Emma from the perspective of Mr. Knightley) stuck in your head. If you’re anything like me, you won’t want to get it out.