How Autumn de Wilde’s Emma. Showcases Female Talent on Film

Period dramas don’t appeal to everyone. These petticoat clad pictures are generally thought of as cinema for women. The classic storylines of unrequited love, high-society and enormous manor houses apparently appeal to a female audience and our stereotypical need for a strong Mr. Darcy type.  

Literary legend Jane Austen is perhaps one of the most popular sources for period drama adaptations and audiences have fallen in love with characters of hers such as Pride and Prejudice‘s Elizabeth Bennet and Sense and Sensibility’s Dashwood sisters. These television and cinematic adaptations have long since swept audiences off their feet, with their target market being predominately women. 

It is interesting then, that so many of the Austen adaptations have been directed by men. Since the very well received 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series, staring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, the only other Austen adaptation to be directed by a woman is Patricia Rozema’s 1999 take on Mansfield Park

It is strange to think that a genre that is so influenced by the interests of women haven’t had more female directors. It is with joy then to see the latest Austen adaptation being helmed by Autumn de Wilde. The music and fashion director has taken on the folly-filled story Emma.

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich. Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) lives with her sweet Father and oversees his hypochondria with amusement and tenderness. Filling her days with self-indulgence, she finds the most entertainment in matchmaking, taking great delight in her outstanding track record, with her most recent success resulting in the marriage of her beloved governess. 

Emma longs for someone else to unite in matrimony and befriends the sweet and naïve Harriet (Mia Goth). Harriet soon becomes Emma’s greatest challenge yet as she struggles to set her up with the local vicar Mr. Elton (Josh O’Connor). All the while being challenged herself by neighbour and friend Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn) and finding the time to flirt with the charming Frank Churchill (Callum Turner). 

Austen through the eyes of Autumn de Wilde is undeniably dreamy, painterly and completely delicious. Colours such as soft greens, delicate blues, romantic blush, dainty yellow and powdery lilacs all grace the screen and the gorgeous English countryside is often peppered with the aesthetic of a French patisserie. It’s a delight to look at and there’s an unapologetic soft femininity to it that works so beautifully. 

De Wilde is a music and fashion director and you can tell. This classic story has been told in its original time and setting but there is a modern edge to it, something about it screams high-fashion and luxury. She delivers the most beautiful mise-en-scéne and one could quite happily just watch the film on mute, taking in the beauty that is displayed onscreen. It feels specifically feminine in its depiction in the very best way.

Costume by Alexandra Byrne is outstanding. There are stunning layers of pretty pastel fabrics, frills, lace and silk. You can almost feel the delicate touch of the skirts against your skin, the light twirl of the skirts, the dainty lace upon your hands. It is clear just how much thought and attention has gone into the costume and Byrne has truly outdone herself. 

It’s not all about aesthetics though, the themes of female friendship and solidarity are especially strong and even though this derives from the source material, there’s a specific sense of feminine understanding that radiates from the screen. As a female audience member, one can tell that a woman has directed this film, but it also feels as if its writer, Eleanor Catton (author of the Booker Prize-winning The Luminaries) has truly paid attention to what contemporary audiences want from their female characters. 

The developing relationship between Emma and Harriet feels entirely organic. Emma becomes genuinely attached to Harriet and she no longer becomes her plaything but a platonic soulmate and treasured ally. Female filmgoers are bored of the outdated troupe that women are forever in competition with each other, we want to see solidarity and friendship prevails. Catton delivers just this with her work on Emma and it is their relationship that becomes the love story. 

We’re also given a score by Isobel Waller-Bridge. It is brash in its joyful nature, excessively cheery and delightful. It is a total joy to see a film bursting at the seams with female talent. With recent comments about the lack of recognition for women in film, de Wilde’s feature feels like a fantastic fight against such flippant disregard of women’s efforts.

Emma is sugary sweet but entirely delectable. It will divide audiences in its splendour but the display of female talented pouring from the screen is utterly marvellous. A celebration of women’s expression on film!

You can read our Emma. review here.


Updated: Mar 16, 2020

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