Emma. [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (22nd February 2021).
The Film

"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition... and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her."

This is the sound of me screaming when I opened the mailing envelope and saw this film; it is a long and wretched howl of frustration and horror. Full disclosure - I despise films like this: adults dressed in period piece ensemble, smugly reciting some form of older English that may have been popular in the 1800’s, atrocious haircuts on the men and the women sporting ridiculous spiralled hair-do’s; this is a fairy tale for today’s audience and I am repulsed by it. This long-winded version of Jane Austen's 1815 novel is once again brought to the silver screen revived by Eleanor Catton who wrote the screenplay and directed by Autumn de Wilde with an eye for pomp and circumstance.

Austen’s name should be more than familiar to filmgoers because she has yielded a fertile ground for directors, both past and present, with a slew of hit titles: from "Pride And Prejudice" (1813) to "Sense And Sensibility" (1811) to "Mansfield Park" (1814), Austen has proven to be Hollywood’s golden goose. Noted for her novels which critique and comment on the British gentry, Austen’s plots often centered on women in search of a husband to supply them with outstanding social standing through their wealth and ancestry; her writings have long made her a favorite among critics due to their use of irony, social satire, and realism. Indeed, some may prefer Amy Heckerling’s 1995 version "Clueless" which was somewhat loosely based on Austen’s "Emma" and is much funnier than de Wilde’s version.

Okay, here is the plot: Emma tells the story of Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the heroine of the story; a beautiful twenty-one year old woman that is the center of her small English village’s universe and she delights in the meddling of the romantic affairs of her friends. After playing matchmaker for her governess Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan) Emma takes under her wing a new associate Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), a gangly teenager given to romantic crushes. Determined not to marry, Emma is dedicated to her aging father Mr. Woodhouse (Bill Nighy), a man who lives in dread of drafts. In other words, romance continues to flow around her, but she stubbornly refuses to see the growing affections of family friend George Knightley (Johnny Flynn); a daring young man that refuses to ride in a carriage anywhere. The bulk of the film concerns itself with hidden innuendo, juicy gossip, whispered secrets and uninvoked crushes; a typical 18th century life. Trouble begins when Harriet declares that she has a crush on a local farmer Robert Martin (Connor Swindells) however Emma is not going to stand by and let her protégé give herself to a common ruffian. Instead Emma sows the seeds of doomed romance by leading Harriet to the idiotic cleric Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor) and this backfires spectacularly as Mr. Elton instead declares his affections for Emma. After making a fool of himself, Elton disengages from a carriage ride and walks home. Alas, poor Elton, but we have not seen the last of him yet. Emma herself remains above all this matchmaking even though she has partially fallen for a fellow landowner that has not shown up yet. Frank Churchill (Callum Turner) is a man that is often spoken of but seldom seen. A wealthy landowner who is due to become even richer, Churchill is a mere shadow that falls over the others that make up Emma’s social circle. Suddenly things take a turn for the worse as the niece of a local chatterbox Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) shows up and steals the spotlight away from Emma. Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson) has long been the focus of Miss Bates’ clamoring and with the arrival of fresh meat, the male sharks come to life. With lightning bolts flying from her eyes, Emma is called upon as the insincere cheat that she is by her childhood pal, Mr. Knightley and he does not mince words with her. Aha, finally a moment of honesty in this film! I was starting to feel suffocated with the false manners and overstuffed finery that the film ostentatiously bludgeons us with.

Knightley sees Emma for what she really is: a matchmaker that thinks that she knows best who is most appropriate for the other. In other words, a meddler in other people’s affairs of the heart. Knightley is appalled. Since Emma is well off and has no interest in getting married, she believes that she is above reproach and that qualifies her as one to judge who is best suitable, and here lies the rub. From these bothersome moments the director manages to wring some mildly humorous moments, but I for one was not rolling in the aisles.

The actors do manage to make their characters appear to be realistic and complete with the ornate costuming and eccentric hairstyles, they manage to capture the period’s authenticity. Taylor-Joy is definitely someone to keep an eye on because she does manage to bring a certain amount of star quality to the heroine of the film, but I do believe that everyone that was involved in the film brought to the screen a undoubtable believability, from the stars on down to the lesser actors that portray the servants. I begrudgingly admit that the film is somewhat entertaining, and the amazing settings lend themselves to a historic correctness.

A moment of truth occurs halfway through the film when the aristocratic group decide to have a picnic at Box Hill. They are settled on the grass when a moment of silence descends upon the group like a shroud. Deciding to play a game, Frank Churchill calls out to the group sort of a challenge: that Emma needs to be entertained and so everyone is ordered to reveal exactly what they are thinking at the moment. Of course, this backfires horribly and ends up with Emma boldly insulting the spinster Miss Bates with a moment of unabashed honesty. So much for fun and games in Victorian times. Emma is revealed for who she truly is: a beautiful, slightly psychopathic and completely self-obsessed rich girl. This is an odd moment because previously the director had us aligned with Emma and now the tables have turned and we are seeing Emma, for the first time, without her mask on. I must admit that this bit of sleight of hand trickery made me smile.

I am not going to reveal every detail here so fans of Miss Austen’s will have to check this film out to see if it succeeds in matching the novel, however I must admit that Bill Nighy as Emma’s draft dodging elderly father brings a much needed physical comedy to the drama with his various tics and mannerisms. I happily sat up and paid attention when he was on the screen and I only wished that the director had found a way to add more of him to the production. As I previously stated, this was not my cup of tea and I had to force myself to watch the film, let alone bring myself to write this review. Like most sugary snacks, a little goes a long way and so too does this film. Enjoy it for the eye candy that it is and look out if your partner brings this home for the night’s viewing! Roll the credits.

Video

Presented in HD 1080p 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression and in a 1.78:1 widescreen format. Style, style and more style! This film did not really involve me however the finery on display and the incredible sets were impressive. From the costumes to the hair and make up this peek into the life of a 18th Century refined lady does reveal incredible attention to detail. Very good use of the color palette and a strong black level as well.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround, French DTS 5.1 surround, and an English Audio Descriptive Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track. lots of music to be enjoyed that helps invoke the period feel of the film and the soundtrack is noticeably clear and room filling. I appreciated the use of use of the music to create the period feel. Dialogue was clear and centered. Optional subtitles are included in English HoH, French, and Spanish.

Extras

Universal has included a decent amount of extras. Below is a closer look.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

There's a feature audio commentary track featuring director Autumn de Wilde, screenwriter Eleanor Catton, and director of photography Christopher Blauvelt as the three discuss the film and reveal additional insights.

There's a collection of deleted scenes (13:24) A total of ten scenes have been included.

A gag reel (10:53) is included and yes, a real knee slapper! Outtakes and mistakes and the usual hilarity!

"A Playful Tease" (4:57) featurette takes a look at casting, rehearsals and behind the scenes friendships.

"Crafting a Colorful World" (4:48) featurette is a glance at the films production values.

"The Autumn Craze" (4:46) featurette is a brief look at the director Autumn de Wilde’s career.

DISC TWO: DVD

This is a DVD version of the film.

Also included in the package is a code for a digital copy version of the film.

Packaging

Comes packaged in a blu-ray keep case with first pressings housed in a slip-case cover.

Overall

"Emma." is an eyeful of colorful scenes including some breath-taking shots inside of Wilton House in England that is gorgeously shot. This is a treat for the senses, but for those seeking serious depth I suggest that you look elsewhere.

The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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