By Cathy Anderson
When Emma persuades Harriet to refuse the equally adorable farmer Mr Martin’s offer of marriage in favour of a pursuing the theatrical but vacuous vicar Mr Elton (who offers a higher social standing), she sets in motion a comedy of romantic errors, unrequited crushes and heartbreak before the inevitable heartwarming happy endings.
Emma is a meddler, an entitled snob.
Even Austen acknowledged readers would struggle to relate to her, saying she ”is a character who no one but myself will much like”.
Emma’s mischief is rooted in the strict hierarchy of society at the time – women without fortune, education or birthright must marry well, as they are not allowed professions or inheritances.
Thus finding suitors for single women was the predominant pastime of bored, wealthy women.
Taylor-Joy brings her game face to the title role, at once haughty, beautiful, clever but ultimately susceptible to the seduction of romance by love-interest-who-lives-next-door George Knightley (Flynn.)
Segmented into four seasons, Emma is a slow burn, and in this vein de Wilde has stayed lovingly true to Austen’s world – there is no instant gratification when it comes to love. There is no swiping right.
The director taps into this restraint beautifully, sending the sexual tension sky high with tiny intimate moments.
A lingering touch during the ball as Knightley and Emma dance is electric. Trust me.
Of course, there are myriad LOL moments in Emma.
Bill Nighy, as the hypochondriac Mr Woodhouse, is a perfect foil for the romantic drama unfolding around him. That man can raise a laugh with one eyebrow.
The absolute scene stealer, however, is comedian Miranda Hart as the well-meaning but irritatingly loquacious Miss Bates.
Whether it’s a comical dash around the haberdashery earnestly chasing Emma for some attention or incessant chattering through an obviously awkward tea date, she’s pure gold.
Hart is also key in the most shocking scene in the film, where Emma takes a lesson from the Mean Girls playbook and is unnecessarily cruel to Miss Bates at a picnic.
It’s a powerful and cathartic moment for Emma, who finally realises her behaviour really does have consequences.
A tip for modern girls? No one likes a rude mole, no matter how rich and popular you are.
It would be simplistic to say that Emma is a film aimed solely at romantics.
But it will pull on your heartstrings while it tickles your funny bone.