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January Movie Review: Emma

Notice the period at the end of the movie title? Like me, you possibly missed that. Director Autumn de Wilde revealed, “There’s a period at the end of Emma because it’s a period film,” she said. In other words, some of the marketing for this new film is based on a pun. One has to admire that kind of dedication, period.

There have been multiple attempts at bringing this novel to the screen, three of them in the 1990s. This version is produced by (and possibly resonates most strongly for) millennials. It is the feature-film directorial debut of Autumn de Wilde, known primarily as a producer and director of music videos for bands like the British group Florence + the Machine. De Wilde has created an intriguing version that remains true to its source, grounding it firmly in 1815 England, and yet manages camera angles and provocative suggestions that refer to today’s social media, including selfies.

De Wilde has also cast a terrific slate of millennials to play the major roles. In her choice of Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role, she has found an expressive face that, as Sarah Lyall (New York Times) says “…plays Emma with style and attitude and sharpness, as if the character has stepped out of a Regency England version of Mean Girls.”

One of the many ways de Wilde and Taylor-Joy create such an effective portrayal is in how human they make these characters. In one event, late in the movie, Emma gets a nosebleed. Taylor-Joy apparently was able to summon up the nosebleed on demand in an emotional scene where the human side to her “mean girl” character could be revealed.

At the very beginning of the movie, we see the naked backside of a man, which also has the effect of exposing the humanness of his character. Both instances serve to produce some current day emotional content beyond the stuffiness of the times. The man, Mr. Knightley, is played by Johnny Flynn, a British millennial best known as a singer. Together, the two create an interesting sexual tension that, although never acknowledged or consummated, permeates the entire film.

I have a theory that Hollywood has a big warehouse, somewhere, full of Regency costumes. In order to make sure that this huge investment in “period” costumes does not go to waste, it seems that every year there must be at least one movie set in historic eras. For the 2020 Oscars, it was Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. The year before that, there was The Favourite and Mary Queen of Scots. You can go back every year and find at least one Oscar-nominated movie that is set in the Regency time period.

In every case, those films get nominated for Costume Design: the clothing is critical to making the film a “period” piece. The costumes in Emma., by Alexandra Byrne, are all terrific—rich in colors, patterns, and textures, and perfect in capturing the wealth of the people who wear them. Equally lavish is the hairstyling, which was also nominated. Emma’s curls must have taken hours to do and they present a candy-like confection that you almost want to taste! Emma. is a delightfully fun movie to watch and is better than the meager recognition it has received. Period. (4 Stars)


  • Michael Young

    I am a retired software developer, who enjoys traveling and watching movies. I live with my wife, Joan, and our two Welsh Corgis, Fleur and Smooch. Although we lived in New Mexico for a couple of decades, we recently moved to Colorado to be closer to family. We own a small trailer and have a bucket list of more than 200 National Parks and Monuments to visit. We take long trips to see different parts of the country, stopping for a few days at each park or town that inspires us. (Our travels are documented on our website: MisterParksTravels.com ) Our most recent trip was a two-month exploration of Alaska, including a week north of the Arctic Circle. But we can’t travel all the time, so we love to watch movies together, we enjoy the movie and the conversation it generates and I began a serious practice of reviewing movies. I review Oscar-nominated am now published in three printed and online newspapers in both New and Old Mexico! The Questa del Rio News was the first to print my column and we will be forever grateful for the opportunity.

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