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Arts and Entertainment Sunday, Mar. 8, 2020 2 months ago

'Emma.' a period piece without a point

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Latest remake of Jane Austin's novel is long on looks but shallow in character

  The latest remake of the film "Emma." feels like one installment of a soap opera that goes on forever. Twenty minutes into it, you can't wait for the credits to roll. 

  Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) is described as being "handsome, clever and rich" at the onset of the story. She fancies herself as a matchmaker, yet she is not attached. At best, she's merely a conceited meddler in others’ affairs. She's known for speaking her mind and, at times, can be quite brutal. 

  When Emma decides to find a suitable husband for her naïve friend, Harriet (an adorable Mia Goth), her selfish manipulation of others is exposed. There's a steady stream of men coming and going in and out of Harriet's life thanks to Emma, who doesn't seem to mind toying with individuals’ fragile emotions. One in particular is longtime friend and brother-in-law, George Knightley (Johnny Flynn), who doesn't take kindly to the malarkey that Emma dishes out. 

 In this, her first feature film, director Autumn de Wilde definitely has paid attention to the details in this 19th century British period piece.

As a bit of a side note, that period in the title is no typo. De Wilde is on record as saying she put it there because this is a period movie. OK. 

The sets are painstakingly gorgeous and lush countryside shots taken outside East Sussex, England, are stunning to behold. It was a brilliant move to take on Oscar winner Alexandra Byrne ("Elizabeth: The Golden Age") as costume designer. It's not often that wardrobe would be the most outstanding element in a film, but that it is in "Emma."

  De Wilde also scored big time by casting Bill Nighy as Emma's hypochondriacal father. He has never been quite so delightful and is able to totally steal each and every scene that he inhabits. There is one scene in particular in which he questions the way the Vicar (Josh O’Conner) pronounces "innocence." It begs a hearty laugh.

  It's difficult to give a whit about the characters in "Emma." They're frivolous and shallow and have nothing to do but yak about one another behind one another's back. This disappointing film could have used way more Bill Nighy and way less prattle.

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