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IN JANE AUSTEN'S 1815 novel of mismatched lovers, meddlesome yet well-meaning Emma Woodhouse informs one dashing suitor: "I always deserve the best treatment, because I never put up with any other."

First-time feature film director Autumn de Wilde and screenwriter Eleanor Catton respond to those demands with a spirited yet staunchly faithful treatment of the source text, which gallops over various hurdles on the characters' converging paths to enduring happiness.

Neatly bookmarked into chapters denoting the four seasons, this incarnation of Emma is a handsomely upholstered and sporadically hilarious affair, distinguished by chocolate box production design and costumes.

Anya Taylor-Joy is a snug fit for the aloof, shallow and adroit heroine and catalyses gently simmering on-screen chemistry with Johnny Flynn as her stiff-shirted sparring partner, Mr Knightley.

Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart gleefully pocket hearty chuckles in colourful supporting roles while the latter also manages to tug heartstrings when her clucky spinster is on the receiving end of a cruel and careless aside.

The most imaginative and wickedly enjoyable screen adaptation of Austen's work remains Amy Heckerling's delicious 1995 teen comedy Clueless but de Wilde politely reminds us of the book's bountiful but old-fashioned charms without straying far from the page.

Emma Woodhouse (Taylor-Joy) takes personal credit for the happy union of her former governess, Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan), and Mr Weston (Rupert Graves).

Following the nuptials, Emma reassures her worrywart widower father, Mr Woodhouse (Nighy), that she has no intention of contriving her own love match - "I promise to make none for myself" - and will remain by his side on the family's vast country estate.

However, Emma cannot resist interfering in matters of the heart and she defies the warnings of neighbour Mr Knightley (Flynn) to mould the romantic prospects of naive new acquaintance, Harriet Smith (Mia Goth).

The easily influenced young woman is smitten with farmer Robert Martin (Connor Swindells) but Emma persuades Harriet to shun his advances in favour of buffoonish vicar Mr Elton (Josh O'Connor).

Meanwhile, Emma eagerly awaits the arrival of Mr Weston's son Frank Churchill (Callum Turner) and ruefully tolerates the constant twittering of spinster Miss Bates (Hart). Thanks to Emma's meddling and sharp tongue, hearts are broken and fragile egos deflated while her own happiness is called into question.

Emma fizzes pleasantly for two hours, condensing the book's central themes and disentangling extraneous characters and narrative diversions.

De Wilde demonstrates a light touch behind the camera for various set pieces including a wellchoreographed country house ball where the heroine and Mr Knightley realise their true feelings for each other as their dancing arms entwine.

The characters' hearts race faster than ours as Emma tearfully learns humility and finally understands the meaning of "such a happiness when good people get together".


Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) with Mr Knightley (Johnny Flynn)

Mia Goth as Harriet Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse

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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 13, 2020
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