I generally enjoy period pieces. For instance, LITTLE WOMEN (2019) was my favorite movie last year.
However, today’s movie, EMMA (2020), based on the novel by Jane Austen, in spite of its fabulous costumes and set design, and decent acting, just didn’t do it for me.
There was just something lacking in this new version. I’d say its biggest flaw was its lack of comedic timing. When a film that is supposed to be light and fun struggles with its humor, that’s a big deal. In addition, its characterizations and dialogue were also sub par.
EMMA takes place in nineteenth century England and is about well-to-do Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) who likes to play romantic matchmaker for her family and friends. She means well, and the story follows her attempts to put those folks together who she believes should be in love, but more often than not, things don’t go as planned.
Neither does the script by Eleanor Catton. Surprisingly, most of the characters simply didn’t come to life. Their personalities were subdued, and most of their dialogue was lacking. In fact, there is something subdued about the entire production.
The dialogue is quiet and flat and barely generates a chuckle let alone a laugh. And unlike last year’s LITTLE WOMEN, it barely has anything relevant to say to today’s audiences.
The cast does try its best. I like Anya Taylor-Joy a lot. She stood out in THE WITCH (2015) and her performance was one of my favorite parts of that movie. Here, as Emma, she’s effective, but she has few moments in the film that resonate. Her Emma just doesn’t generate much emotion.
Johnny Flynn is very good as George Knightley, Emma’s best friend and the man the audience knows is best for her, yet she’s so busy matchmaking she doesn’t seem to be able to see it. But like Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn encounters the same problem in that there’s just not a lot of key moments in the film for his character.
Mia Goth delivers probably my favorite performance in the film, as the bubbly Harriet Smith. In a supporting role, she enjoys numerous fine moments in the movie, and her character is one of the more engaging characters in the film. This comes as no surprise. She was equally as memorable in the underappreciated horror movie A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2016).
Miranda Hart was also memorable as Miss Bates. She provides the film with most of its comic relief, but again, it’s of the subtle variety.
And Bill Nighy makes his presence known as Emma’s father Mr. Woodhouse, but like the rest of the cast, he too underplays his role.
Director Autumn de Wilde showcases vivid cinematography, wonderful costumes, and opulent sets. But he doesn’t seem to take full advantage of his actors, nor give this film a strong sense of pacing. The running time for EMMA is two hours and four minutes. It felt much longer than that.
Sure, there are a couple of moments that work well, like when George asks Harriet to dance. This scene actually generated some real emotion. But other than these few instances, this version of EMMA falls flat and simply doesn’t carry enough oomph to keep its audience interested.
In one sequence, Mr. Woodhouse falls asleep while Emma and George are talking. I was trying really hard not to join him.