Having seen numerous versions of Emma, the real draw to the newest was Bill Nighy. I must say right away that he is splendid. With a twitch of his hand or a barely-there shrug, he conveys everything needed to be expressed. He added the right touch of humor, and IMHO, with a subtly that would please Austen. Many of her characters were meant to be whimsically humorous.
Austen’s Miss Woodhouse is not my favorite, since she is pushy, self-serving and proud. In this rendition, my mild aversion to her has been mollified. Anya Taylor-Joy portrays our heroine in a more accessible manner. Paltrow’s take was somewhat whiny, often petulant, rather childish. Taylor-Joy has created an Emma with more depth, a snobbish, self-satisfied busybody, who learns the meaning of true civility. By the end of the film, she is worthy of the excellent Mr. Knightly, who in this film (Johnny Flynn) comes across as too emotional. He’s a joy to watch, certainly, but the character of Mr. Knightly is a gentleman of constraint and superior style. And I didn’t quite understand the purpose of showing his bare backside or having him lying on the floor in despair. Mr. Knightly prostrate with frustration? Surely not.
And the marvelous Brit actors do not disappoint. Oh, the ensemble acting! So many favorites! And every one of them understands Austen’s restrained humor and sly enjoyment of pointing out humanity’s character flaws. Josh O’Connor as Mr. Elton, who gave us an interesting and sympathetic portrayal of Prince Charles in The Crown, embodies hypocrisy in an almost over-the-top performance. Tanya Reynolds as Mrs. Elton is spot-on as the society witch utterly oblivious to her own crass behavior. Miss Bates, (Miranda Hart of Call the Midwife) is the tender-hearted gentle lady of limited means, but generous of soul, who provides the perfect contrast to Emma’s smallness of character and the catalyst for a much-needed learning experience.
The costumes are exquisite. Emma’s wardrobe is extensive. The hats glorious. The houses and locales are lushly represented. The production is of the highest quality. The Brits almost always do it up right, but this is a step above and beyond. There are many reasons to see this movie, but first and foremost, if you are an admirer of Austen, this one should not be missed.
Older DVD Gem:
THE LAST WORD (2009)
This totally character-driven story is about previously powerful, retired ad exec Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine), who decides that she wants her obituary written before her death. Unfortunately for her, the person she chooses to write it, Ann Sherman (Amanda Seyfried) has a will as strong as Lauler’s and won’t back down and write flowery drivel. Ann forces Lauler to confront the fact that almost everybody hated, feared, and avoided her. She didn’t merely crack the glass ceiling; she smashed it, which means she stepped on many to get there. In order to get a proper obit that conveys a brilliant legacy, Lauler must start a new direction at the end of her life.
The beginning of the film dwells too long on Lauler’s control issues and depression. Hang in there. Once it gets moving, it’s fascinating and goes in unexpected directions. There is so much meat in this story, so much to encourage personal reflection and make us wonder about our own legacies—not for the sake of vanity—but for the sake of self-improvement and finding the best ways to enrich our lives and live each day to its fullest.
If you don’t mind graphic everything, check out Spenser Confidential. Loads of action, smarty-pants humor, and a guy who just wants to do the right thing. But beware of the girlfriend.
M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)
Follow on Twitter @RigdonML