The Jane Austen revival continues. “Emma” is supposed to be a social satire, but lacks acerbic wit.  The screenplay by Eleanor Catton consists of tepid tea room dialogue that not only makes us wonder why all these idle rich people are doing nothing, but why we are watching them do nothing.

            Inexperienced Director Autumn DeWilde manages to elicit little emotion out of the characters until the end, when their parlor game of musical-chairs romance is nearly over.  At least the main character, Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), has some screen presence, but she doesn't have much help. The boy-next-door, George (Johnny Flynn) alternates between gossping with her, ignoring her, and fussing at her for social lapses.  Her best friend, Harriet (Mia Goth) smiles sweetly but seems vapid.  Her supposed love interest, Frank (Callum Turner), is mostly absent, but insipid when he is present.  Bill Nighy could have been like Maggie Smith is “Downton Abbey,” delivering caustic punch lines with deadpan abandon, but is woefully underutilized as Emma's widowed father, reduced to merely mugging and complaining about cold drafts in the room. 

            At least there are some interesting snippets of period-piece music in the background, including familiar old hymns.  But the formal dance music was singularly uninteresting, as was the awkward pirouettes of the ballroom dancers. 

            It might have been fun for the actors to dress up in period costumes, and pretend to be genteel nobility.  But it's not much fun watching them.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association