Updated: May 29
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is "handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition," says author Jane Austen. She's also perfectly outfitted, with her naïve protégé Harriet Smith (Mia Goth).
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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy; 2020; PG for brief partial nudity; streaming via Amazon Prime, Apple TV (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: Commentary by director Autumn de Wilde, screenwriter Eleanor Catton, and cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt
THE LATEST incarnation of Jane Austen’s much-adapted romantic comedy of manners is a thoroughly entertaining confection. With color schemes suggesting the pastel hues of Jordan almonds or fruit sorbet, and set against dreamy pastoral backdrops that would make any Gainsborough-lover sigh, director Autumn de Wilde’s debut feature is a feast for the eyes.
Add to that the superb talent and perfect comic timing of its actors, eccentrically pleasing musical cues, and Austen’s keen insight into the foibles of early 19th-century gentlefolk, and you won’t find many more delightful ways to pass 124 minutes. The story of “Emma,” for those who haven’t read the novel or seen its various screen interpretations, is the story of Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy, “Glass,” “Witch”), a wealthy, pretty young woman who fancies herself a match-maker. With no plans to find a husband for herself – her widower father (Bill Nighy) expects her to keep him company in their huge stately home – Emma revels in meddling in other people’s lives. She succeeds handily with her beloved governess (Gemma Whelan), whose wedding to a kind older man (Rupert Graves) Emma’s machinations brought about, opens the film. Emma’s next target is someone her own age, an unsophisticated student she befriends named Harriet (Mia Goth). Harriet, an apparent orphan, has received a marriage proposal from a sweet young farmer (Connor Swindells) she loves. But Emma deems him unworthy of her new protégée and convinces Harriet to reject him.
Emma has decided Harriet’s unknown father was a nobleman and proceeds to tutor her new friend in the ways of upper-class young ladies. Meanwhile, a handsome young neighbor and family friend, George Knightley (Johnny Flynn), clearly – and vocally – disapproves of Emma’s behavior and is certain she’s done Harriet harm. Naturally, he is proven right. Self-deception and childishness plague Emma, as well as several other characters, creating one disaster after another. The confusion expectedly clears up; Emma does some maturing and is finally ready for a love of her own. The supporting cast members – Miranda Hart, Callum Turner, Tanya Reynolds, Josh O’Connor and Amber Anderson – all provide perfect, often comic, foils for Emma’s schemes and mischief.
(1) Much of "Emma." was filmed at Firle, a historic village and country estate in the South Downs National Park. (2&3) Emma gives a bouquet of flowers to her governess Miss Taylor (Gemma Whelan), who is to be married to Mr. Weston (Rupert Graves). (4) Firle subs for Hartfield the Woodhouse estate near the village of Highbury. (5) Vicar Mr. Elton (Josh O'Connor) conducts the marriage. (6) Emma and her father Mr. Woodhouse (Bill Nighy) witness the ceremony, filmed at All Saints Church in Hitchins, England.
The Universal Pictures Home Entertainment decided to bypass a physical 4K disc for an exclusive 4K digital presentation, which is simply gorgeous. It’s also another example of a film captured in a 4.5K digital camera (1.78:1 aspect ratio) and mastered in TRUE 4K. The results extract exquisite color schemes, stunning costumes, faithful period sets, and dreamy pastoral landscapes, all displayed in crystal clear detail. The clarity is so refined we can see individual strains of peach fuzz on the side of Emma’s face in an extreme close-up.
The HDR10 grading is excellent, with expansive contrast levels and natural face toning on the fair-skinned cast.
The Blu-ray includes a DTS-HD six-channel soundtrack, while digital is coded with the slightly lesser Dolby Digital Plus, featuring the composing team of Isobel Waller-Bridge (sister to Phoebe Waller-Bridge of BBC series “Fleabag”) and David Schweitzer. They provide a surprisingly quirky and varied score with the right amount of 19th-century flare. It counterpoints the film’s humor and romance with orchestral strings, woodwinds, and operatic vocals.
The disc and digital include a good number of deleted scenes; an amusing gag reel; and three featurettes containing interviews with the director, cast and crew.
The commentary is loaded with fun trivia and anecdotes. It’s very worthwhile, despite its overemphasis on plot discussion. De Wilde notes the enormous amount of research that went into the project and points out the “bookend” scenes of Emma’s opening and closing her eyes in the film’s beginning and end. Catton reveals that the church in rural England, where the first wedding takes place, coincidentally had someone named “Austen” buried in its graveyard.
(1) Harriet attends an all-girls boarding school. (2) Mr. George Knightley (Johnny Flynn), has known Emma since they were children and never hesitates to call her out. (3) Emma has been painting a portrait of Harriet and was interrupted by her father and Mr. Knightley. (4) Mr. Knightley leaves Hartfield.
Catton brings up the structure of the film, divided into seasons, to reflect the book’s focus on a calendar year in Emma’s life. De Wilde, discussing the film’s color schemes, said she wanted each actor to serve as a harmonious color “puzzle piece” when they entered a room. She talks about the scenes in the fanciful haberdashery shop, which she says was inspired by the general store in “Little House on the Prairie.”
The director also boasts that everyone who plays an instrument or sings in the film is doing it for real: Amber Anderson is an accomplished pianist; Flynn is a long-time musician with a rock band, who learned to play the violin for the film; and Taylor-Joy learned her piano piece by heart.
De Wilde remarks on Emma’s hairdo, the tight curls of which loosen, as the film progresses and her world becomes increasingly out of her control. Blauvelt identifies how several of the locations in “Emma” were the same as were used in Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon.” He adds that he was very selective about the number of close-up shots – “We wanted to earn them.”
De Wilde notes the way the color red is used in stark contrast to the soft outdoor shades, such as the parade of schoolgirls in their red cloaks, or Emma’s nosebleed during a romantic interlude. While the end credits roll, De Wilde reveals that Flynn wrote the song “Queen Bee” for it, and that she, Waller-Bridge and Flynn’s sister sang back-up.
— Peggy Earle
(1) Emma holds her newborn niece, during a visit by her sister Isabella and her husband John Knightley. (2) Harriet has powder sugar on her face after playing a game with her classmates. (3&4) Harriet sees farmer Robert Martin (Connor Swindells) after she turned down his proposal of marriage. (5) Mr. Knightley sings as Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson) plays the piano.
(1) Mr. Elton and his snobby wife (Tanya Reynolds). (2) Mr. Knightley and Emma take a break from dancing. (3) Emma and her affections for the dashing, soon to be wealthy, Frank Churchill (Callum Turner). (4) Emma's day has come!