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Emma - Film Review

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Published March 2nd 2020
Savour Emma

There is a lot to savour about Emma. Leaving aside for the moment the characters and the plot, there are the settings. Lush flowing countryside, antique villages, detailed to within an inch of their lives, formal gardens with ornamental lakes (where is Mr D'Arcy when you need him?) and stately homes to die for. The English Tourist Board (if such a body still exists), must be rubbing their sanitised hands together hoping that the worldwide distribution of this movie will counter the effect of viral phobia and draw thousands of tourists. It worked for Downton Abbey, why not for Emma?

And then there are the characters. Anya Taylor-Joy is a superb Emma. She perfectly gets the knife-edge balances between the consciousness of status, and simple kindness and desire to help others with officious interference, cleverness and naivety. She is the pivot of the whole mechanism, and manages not to put an ornately costumed foot wrong.

Bill Nighy captures Jane Austen's description of Emma's father, as the vague, somewhat helpless, over-anxious hypochondriac with a heart of gold. Once again he can do no wrong. Mia Goth, as Harriet Smith (the protégé whom Emma mentors), captures the delight and the deference due to such an elevation right up to the point where she reveals that she has fallen for Mr Knightley – a complication which Emma had not foreseen and which most certainly does not fit into any of her imagined scenarios.

Said Mr Knightley (Johnny Flynn) does not quite manage to be the courteous strong moral force which Austen envisages, who helps Emma confront her imperfections and grow in self-knowledge - but he comes close enough for Anya Taylor-Joy to make up the difference.

Miranda Hart, as the kind-hearted but socially inept Miss Bates, is perfect in one of the key moments of the story, where Emma cruelly makes her a target of her wit. So the settings are ornate and almost painfully perfect, and the characters, for the most part, are brilliantly cast.

So what of the plot? Your reviewer happened to go to the movie with someone who has almost total recall of the plots of her favourite books, of which Emma is one, and she pointed out (not entirely approvingly) several tweaks which the screenwriter had inserted.

One suspects that Austen, who crafted her plots with the precision of a Swiss watch, might well not have approved, just as she might have regretted that the almost complete absence of one subplot takes away some of her more acerbic commentary on the politics of love and marriage in her era.

That said, for a movie-length presentation some tweaking and culling has to be done and for the most part the movie is a delight.

Norman Wilner puts it well. "If you just want to spend a couple of hours in Austen's world, revisiting these characters – or if you've never met them before – this Emma is a perfectly pleasant way to do so. But if you're looking for a little more of Austen's bite – or even just her simple, sharp observations about manners, frailty, loyalty and the mysteries of the human heart… well, the book is right there on the shelf."

We saw Emma at the Portside Dendy.

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Why? Engaging, entertaining,memorable
When: current
Cost: $18
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by Helen Belli on 24/02/2020
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