Austentatious: Emma’s out to judge the gentry!

It wouldn’t be life as we know it if the British public weren’t tempted with an annual period drama or two, and if it were not enough that 2019 treated us with the likes of Vanity Fair and Downton Abbey, the brand spanking new trailer for Focus Features’ Emma promises not just the cake – but the cherry too. This latest adaption of Jane Austen’s infamous comedy brilliantly breezes onto the screen like the opening seconds of the trailer sporting a valiant racing steed. Director Autumn de Wilde’s movie debut clearly benefits from her career in photography as the sheer aesthetic detail alone is more than enough for the eyes and ears to feast upon. It plays on stereotypes fitting of the Georgian and Regency era but clearly has scope for modernist splendour – the potential for humour not being down to the original plot alone, but from what we can see from de Wilde playing with cast, pacing and satire by the droves.

De Wilde has arranged a brilliant spectrum of a cast to attract a range of cinema-goers whether you are a veteran of Austen or not. At the helm playing Emma Woodhouse stars Anya Taylor-Joy, whose filmography ranges from psychological horror Split to the television adaptation of The Miniaturist, Taylor-Joy even snagging a spot for herself in the revered Peaky Blinders. The resume is proof enough of Taylor-Joy’s burgeoning talent and appears to seep into this transformation of Emma, as the minute and a half we are allowed of screen time so far suggests a little more manipulativeness than expected from the charmingly spoiled matchmaker of Highbury.

The supporting acts are additionally nothing to swot at, with notable fresh faces including Josh O’Conner, most renowned by now from his undeniably empathetic portrait of Prince Charles in the third season of Netflix’s The Crown, Callum Turner, recognisable from his impeccable performance earlier this year in BBC’s The Capture, and Johnny Flynn – laudable not only for his shot in ITV’s Vanity Fair, but also for being signed to portray Musical Legend David Bowie in the upcoming biopic Stardust to boot. The talent radiating from these cinematic starlets alone is overwhelming, the motion picture only made so much more exciting given the additional credit of Miranda Hart and Bill Nighy – icons of comic timing. Other recognisable faces include Mia Goth, Rupert Graves (Sherlock) and Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones) – an extremely promising entourage whose announcement would have us flocking to the silver screen en masse based on that information alone.

What makes the concoction even more inviting is the execution of de Wilde’s image. The stream of Homeric simile throughout this review after all is not without reason, as the pastel palette of the set is what you might imagine the ITV studio to be like during Bake Off season. A love child between the fluttering of Marie Antoinette and infamous waspishness of The Favourite, the sugary aesthetic acts as a backdrop for action far more stylised and sensual – the exaggerated daintiness and accentuated vocalisation adding to the original hilarity of Austen’s creation.

ITV has dabbled in another Austen text earlier last year with their take on her last, unfinished novel Sanditon – this kicking up criticism from viewers who felt the heightened sexualisation transgressed away from ‘classic’ Austen fashion. It appears then that there may be a trend in ‘sexing’ up our whole range of costume dramas, and in light of the #MeToo movement and actresses like Emilia Clarke opening up more about bodily exploitation in the name of fame and cinema, de Wilde’s Emma does leave us wondering whether altering Austen in this way strengthens the independent, feminist potential in her literature, or proves an unfortunate example of taking advantage of the male gaze to rake in the dollar. Regardless of the socio-political debate, the trailer for Emma alone presents an ambitious project. Packed with so much to pick up on and revel over for days, February 21st promises a release of quite the cinematic work of art – so make sure to get yourselves along to a screening swiftly to, indeed, ‘try the tart’. 

Photo Credit: Youtube