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Emma.

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Emma (on right) blithely anticipates the moment when her “friend” Harriet will take a sip of her mildly poisoned tea.

Synopsis: Comedy of manners based on the Jane Austen book in which the comely & aristocratic Emma acts as a matchmaker.

Does the cinematic world need another adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma? Strictly speaking: probably not. But considering the staying power of the source material, it’s worth checking into. This latest adaptation, directed by Autumn de Wilde gives you an alternative to the 1996 movie with Gwyneth Paltrow in the lead if Gwynnie makes you nauseated. O! and if you haven’t read Emma, but have seen Amy Heckerling’s 1995 movie Clueless, it will help you figure out Emma’s characters. Cher (Alicia Silverstone) is Emma and Cher’s ex-stepbrother Josh is Mr. Knightley.

Winning adaptations of much-loved classics have everything to do with the casting of the lead character/s. In this case, Anya Taylor-Joy is Emma and Johnny Flynn is Mr. Knightley. Cheers to both, especially Ms. Taylor-Joy.

ATJ makes for a lively and clever Emma. A twenty-year-old aristo, she lives in rural England in the early 1800’s with her widowed father. Unencumbered by job or school, she has a lot of time on her hands. Bored, she takes it into her head that she is made for matchmaking. After all, she introduced her former governess to her future husband. Her latest project is finding the right husband for a nearby school girl, Harriet, who is about Emma’s age. As played by Mia Goth, she has a peculiar take on Harriet, let’s call it ninny-ish. (Ms. Goth was possibly married to Shia LaBouef & I definitely would like to have been working as an extra, eavesdropping for any spilled tea.)

Emma’s sorta friend & sometime scold is Mr. Knightley. (Everyone is so damned formal that I had to look up that his name is George.) He is the brother of Emma’s sister’s husband, so he makes himself welcome at Emma’s manse whenever he feels like it. He too seems to have too much time on his hands. He’s either galloping about on his steed or teasingly judging Emma. According to the book, Mr. Knightley is thirty seven years old, so I don’t know how likely it would be that he would be unmarried in those days, but the book/movie declares it so. In the role of the worldly & wise Mr. Knightley, Johnny Flynn looks like a handsome werewolf. He has wild hair, overgrown mutton chops and a rugged face marked by distracting scratches. Perhaps the scratches are the result of a moonlit scrape with another werewolf?

“I daresay that Mr. Knightley is the most handsome werewolf I’ve danced with this evening.”

We are quickly introduced to a whole host of characters from the neighboring town, many of whom Emma is set to match-up. Poor Harriet is under the spell of the headstrong and sartorially splendid Emma. So much so that I thought she might be in love with Emma. But no, she is attracted to a neighboring farmer man. But meddling Emma has other ideas. Well, she better hurry up and make her matches because, seeing as this is Regency era Britain, people seem to be dying off at quite a clip. Nope, not because of frightful crime sprees but because of frightful diseases. For example, Jane is a neighbor’s orphaned niece, come to visit. Emma is prone to dislike sweet Jane because she is jelly of her singing and piano playing talents. Emma tries to be nice, but she can’t help scowling when Jane and the handsome werewolf perform a duet at a party. Emma gets over it quickly though because she lives in regal splendor with her doting papa (Bill Nighy) whilst Jane will soon be sentenced to a life of  governess-ing; the fate of well-bred but poor young women.

In between parrying with Mr. Knightley, Emma befriends her former governess’ new stepson, Frank who has arrived from London (I guess). Frank (sounds like a name for a 1950’s transit worker in the Bronx) is careless and very pleased with himself. And–I know this will sound abnormal — but his father allowed him to be adopted by relatives when his wife, Franks’ mother, died. So I guess Frank has some issues. And, wow, lots of people certainly died prematurely before modern medicine– ye gads! But it does add drama to narratives.

Emma thinks that maybe she should like Frank, but forgets about it when she is busy trying to set up Harriet with the local vicar, a pompous and unctuous dud. Emma, you fool! You are no good at matchmaking! Instead you mess up “friends'” chances at real satisfaction. But still, we like you.

Emma leaves chaos in her wake. But this won’t stop her. She keeps traipsing down to the local ribbons shop which is sort of her unofficial office.  The ribbons shop is really lit; everyone seems to go there on a daily basis, including the men. And the fanciful inventory is bountiful, just the right place to buy a golden pagoda & globe ornamentation for her hair. I was pleasantly surprised when Mr. Knightley didn’t chide her for that frivolity.

And so it goes in a swirl of parties, teas and picnics. Sometimes Emma needs to persuade someone or apologize, so she puts together baskets for the occasions. One of her apology baskets is seemingly filled with weeds, so I think she might be trolling the recipient. Another time, she has a dead fowl coiled around some fresh veggies. Dear God, it looked like a threat to me, especially when she turned on her heel after delivery and an evil imp smile glowed upon her face. Mr. Heathcote will propose to Miss Greycastle if he knows what’s good for him!

Emma is unstoppable, so she will continue to mismatch everyone in the village or come to some recognition of her own foibles. Maybe if the handsome werewolf Mr. Knightley would back off for two seconds she could sort herself out. Until then she’ll swan around town, tossing bon mots and terrorizing the townsfolk with her egregious matchmaking.

Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:

Grade:  B

Cut to the Chase:  A spritely retelling of Emma.

Humor Highlight:  Bill Nighy as Emma’s father, who goes to great lengths to ensure his good health.

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