Review: Spirited 'Emma.' makes a match

Anya Taylor-Joy stars as title character in latest adaptation of classic tale, which definitely has a clue

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Let's just get this out of the way now: "Clueless" is the best adaptation of Jane Austen's "Emma," and there are no as ifs, ands, or buts about it.

"Emma." — yes, the period is part of the title — works best as a vehicle for star Anya Taylor-Joy, who brings a deliciously underplayed bite the "handsome, clever and rich" title character.

Anya Taylor-Joy in "Emma."

It's a character who was written to be unlikable who has ironically become one of the most enduring figures in Austen's canon. (In addition to "Clueless," there was a 1996 film with Gwyneth Paltrow in the lead role, a 2010 version set in Delhi, India, and a smattering of TV versions over the years.)   

"Emma." has its moments of pluck, and director Autumn de Wilde works hard to show the humans beneath the corseted elegance of the period costuming and setting. Aside from the way we tend to think about people living in early 1800s England, they still might lift their dress to warm their bottom by the fire, so long as no one is looking. 

Taylor-Joy, a standout in "The Witch" and "Thoroughbreds," stars as Emma Woodhouse, a busybody matchmaker for everybody but herself. She cares for her father (Bill Nighy, ready to let loose but never given the chance) and lines up relationships for everyone around her, all the while bickering with her eventual suitor-to-be, George (Johnny Flynn). 

She might not see it, but the audience does. There's sparks between Taylor-Joy and Flynn that help carry "Emma." over some of its bumps, which include an overactive score and laughs that tend to arrive only sporadically. 

It takes a while for "Emma." to find its groove but once it gets there it's a delight. The source material is too good to disappoint.




Rated PG: for brief partial nudity

Running time: 125 minutes