In these virus-laden days of fear and uncertainty (lockdowns, toilet paper shortages, social distancing), it may provide at least a smidge of comfort to know that Universal is saving you the trouble of having to go to a crowded movie theater and sit next to a human petri dish in order to enjoy its current crop of films. All of the studio’s recent theatrical releases will be available via video-on-demand starting this Friday—The Invisible ManThe Hunt, and (the best of the bunch) Autumn de Wilde’s Emma.

The charming and hilarious adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel may also be the most timely of the three, as it includes nothing in the way of angst, terror, or, heck, even drama. Instead, you’re allowed (nay, encouraged) to sit back on your own couch and simply escape for two hours into an 18th-century world where the most pressing issue is figuring out which eligible gent gave an eligible country lass a brand new piano. Scandalous!

Anya Taylor-Joy is perfectly cast as the titular 20-year-old who, we’re told, is traipsing through life without a single thing to vex her. Emma has, of late, dipped her stockinged toe into the shallow pool of matchmaking, which she considers the greatest amusement in the world. Her latest project is her best friend Harriet (Mia Goth), who has caught the eye of a local gentleman, but who Emma believes is better suited for Mr. Elton, the local vicar. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg—being an Austenian comedy of errors, there are more characters than there are buttons on a corset, and, of course, nothing goes as planned among any of them.

Standouts in the top-notch cast include not only the vivacious and whimsical Taylor-Joy (who continues to make her mark as an acting force) but also The Durrells’ Josh O’Connor as Mr. Elton and folk singer/musician Johnny Flynn as Mr. Knightley, the wrinkle in Emma’s freshly-pressed bonnet. It’s Bill Nighy, however, who steals the show right out from under everyone as Emma’s father. His perpetual sense that there’s a chilly draft invading his manor house provides the film’s finest running joke, and it pays off ten-fold at the end.

Music video director and photographer de Wilde (who also shot the movie’s poster) gets virtually everything right in her directorial debut, taking the delightful (and largely faithful) script by The Luminaries author Eleanor Catton and turning it into a flawless concoction of understated acting, beautiful set decoration (by Kave Quinn), and what is easily the early leader in the clubhouse for Best Costume Design (by 2007 Oscar-winner Alexandra Byrne).

From its subtlest moments (a symphony of incisive glimpses, head nods, and winks) to larger, full-on set pieces (all of which is set to a jaunty period score by David Schweitzer and Isobel Waller-Bridge), Emma is pure joy— nothing less than a nice warm cup of delicious British tea in the middle of a horribly overcast day.


4.5/5 stars