I’m a thirty-two year-old male and I grew up on Spielberg and Scorsese, so period romantic dramedies adapted from Jane Austen novels aren’t exactly my cup o’ tea. Renowned photographer and first-time filmmaker Autumn de Wilde, through sheer force of visual acumen and attention to detail, has reinvigorated the genre. 2020’s Emma is far more funny and more involving than Joe Wright’s early-aughts attempts at updating Austen, and others don’t even compare when it comes to Autumn’s eye behind the camera. Emma is a feast for the eyes, with production design full of scrumptious pastel colors and ornate interiors, and costume design that puts other costume dramas to shame.
Exuding confidence and contempt for those who don’t measure up to her, Anya Taylor-Joy continues a string of indelible performances as clever, rich, and handsome Emma, proving once and for all a bright career path is certain. A bright yellow dress adorning her through a greener pasture than I’ve seen on screen in some time is the stuff of beauty. Even the men are afforded luxurious threads, with an irascible Bill Nighy donning a silky house suit as Emma’s father, or Callum Turner strutting around in caramel brown gentlemen’s pants as Frank Churchill on his way to town. Musician Johnny Flynn is a mildly charming if unremarkable presence as Emma’s main squeeze. No matter, as the men are never the center piece in a period piece. That honors goes to the ladies, and Joy and Mia Goth make for a likable pair.
Emma is more a story about their evolving friendship, about Emma’s propensity for wayward matchmaking, than it is a straightforward romantic yarn. Wilde is more pre-occupied with pithy wit and colorful chambers than the tearful musings of men and women potentially betrothed to one another. There’s that too, because of course there is, but this freshman director brings something extra to the mahogany table. Props to her too for casting multiple alum from Netflix’s wildly entertaining Sex Education, as both Conor Swindells and Tanya Reynolds make dutiful impressions as a local farmer’s boy pining for Goth and as the annoying wife of one creepy, awkward pastor. You won’t find a period romance more visually appealing or consistently enjoyable, least not from the past ten years.