From the moment Mr. Woodhouse (Bill Nighy) bounded down the steps of his staircase in full scowl, I wanted to see Emma again. Though this film is merely the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel about a wealthy, independent heiress who creates mischief with her matchmaking schemes, I went in pretty hyped up. For one, the titular Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) seemed to be playing a little closer to the book’s character, with Taylor-Joy making full use of her signature penetrating stare.
Little did I expect that she would be matched frown for frown by Nighy, playing her father, whose background sighing and perpetual phobia of drafts lit up every scene with an endearing ridiculousness. Catching a cold in the 1800s was a deadly situation, but first-time director Autumn de Wilde ratcheted up that paranoia: When a casual mention of snow was dropped during a dinner party, the entire room was thrown into chaos as guests frantically called for their servants and carriages.
But what about the smoldering, you ask? What about the lust-filled brooding? At first, it seemed the film’s main smolder-source, Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn), didn’t know how to pace himself. He entered with a pretty strong stare of amorous longing, and we definitely saw his full butt right away—during the first of the film’s many dressed-by-the-servants’ scenes. But Flynn proved to have a high lust ceiling. We later see him tearing off his cravat and falling to the floor, consumed by passion.
De Wilde’s debut is stylish and original—despite a few Wes Anderson-ish table card season transitions. If I have one regret, it’s that I watched the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow-led version of Emma in preparation for this new one, and it made the disparities jump off the screen. I’d never noticed before how nice they made Emma in the Paltrow version. Even Clueless (which is also based on Austen’s Emma) allowed Cher to start from an interesting and contradictory place of altruistic self-obsession. Heed my advice and let de Wilde’s Emma exist on its own. It has several courses of unique, funny quirks to serve.