If you’re thinking of falling for the marketing and using this latest Austen adaptation as a Valentine’s Day date, you’re frankly better off with a garage-bought bouquet.
The film drags itself out to two hours and feels as out-of-date as Christmas decorations, whilst taking its colour scheme cue from the Laduree counter on Easter weekend.
If you like cupcakes, which I certainly do not, the film does look splendid, particularly Alexandra Byrne’s costumes, which Johnny Flynn as Mr Knightley wears with aplomb. He’s really the only one to come out of this empty frippery with any enhanced reputation, managing to turn the dialogue into something free and comfortable, as if he’s not speaking text at all. The guy’s a star.
I must mention, too, Isobel Waller-Bridge’s music, using choral folk to summon a pastoral vibe, but in between the brief musical interludes, I cannot stress how naff it all felt. Particularly in this post-Copperfield landscape, I struggled to find any relevance to the roundelay of rich white people with massive houses and nothing to do but quip and picnic.
And, despite the bright colours (nods, perhaps to Sofia Coppola’s far superior confection Marie Antoinette), it feels very staid and staged opposite the flowing energy of, say, Little Women. The most – perhaps only – dramatic moment is when Anya Taylor Joy’s “handsome clever and rich” Emma is rude to Miranda Hart’s clucking Miss Bates, prompting tears.
To be fair, that moment does spark some kind of change in Emma and the film does pick up thereafter as it heads toward some kind of conclusion and a terrific ‘nose-bleed’ scene between Emma and Mr Knightley, but this rare moment of chemistry has been far too long coming. So many bonnets, so much eyebrow raising and eyelash fluttering and Bill Nighy fussing about chill draughts.
I failed to see the point of it all, other than to remind another generation of British film at its most indulgent. Look at Portrait of a Lady on Fire if you want to re-invigorate the period drama with a female gaze. Give us some historical social context, the winds of economic change, the political zeitgeist, give us the hardships of rural life, give us the servants or some danger. Give us a reason for Emma’s idle meddling, a hint that this society simply leaves a “clever” woman nothing else to do but poisonous interfering? Or just take the piss at least.
Surely this lot deserve our scorn, or some kind of attitude from the director, Autumn de Wilde? Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice managed to muddy up the genre and capture the flutter of young hearts. Alicia Silverstone and Amy Heckerling showed us how to update it in Clueless. I couldn’t connect with this version at all. What a tiresome time to have been alive.