Dubai Diaries: Why Anya Taylor-Joy is the perfect Emma

The actress is a pure 'joy' to watch on screen in the latest adaptation of Jane Austen's famous novel.


Enid Grace Parker

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Photo: Twitter
Photo: Twitter

Published: Tue 21 Dec 2021, 11:46 AM

Having not yet watched what is arguably her most famous work, The Queen’s Gambit, I wasn’t sure what to expect from British-American actress Anya Taylor-Joy taking on one of literature’s most famous heroines and worst matchmakers, the beautiful, meddling but nevertheless endearing Emma.

When Jane Austen wrote Emma (first published in 1815) would she have imagined that over two centuries later this Regency-era comedy of manners would continue to be a source of great amusement and joy, as well as inspiration for an ever-growing list of adaptations?

Described as a novel about “youthful hubris and romantic misunderstandings”, the titular character of Emma was described by Austen as one not many would like, except herself.

It turns out she was way off the mark.

Since 1948, when Emma was made into a live BBC TV broadcast, the classic novel has been adapted for several television, film and stage versions and its appeal shows no signs of waning.

Upon watching the latest screen version (Emma, 2020), we wondered if anyone (sorry Alicia Silverstone aka Cher from Clueless, you have been replaced as our favourite) would in the future be able to match the charm, expressiveness and sheer comic and dramatic talent of Last Night In Soho star Anya Taylor-Joy. She sets the bar high when it comes to portraying an 19th century heroine who in modern parlance can only be described as a brat — but one you can’t help feeling tugs of affection for.

Joy on screen directed by Autumn de Wilde is everything you would expect from Austen’s Emma, and more — she’s interfering, charming, curious, clueless, and hilarious as well. Joy’s eyes (she often sports an unblinking — at times unnerving — gaze) speak volumes, sometimes conveying her emotions even without words. Her chemistry with Emma’s male lead, Mr Knightley (a ruggedly handsome Johnny Flynn), is crackling — it’s the kind of tension that will give you goosebumps.

Everything about this version of Emma (which I happened to come upon recently on Netflix) is slightly exaggerated and caricatured, whether it’s Mr Elton (Josh O’Connor) as a hyper bordering on creepy pastor-suitor (who Emma tries unsuccessfully to fix her friend Harriet Smith up with, a perennially weepy Mia Goth), or Miss Bates (Miranda Hart) a poor member of the community whose constant chatter irks Emma to a point where she insults her in public, a moment that can be described as a turning point in the story.

The soundtrack which mixes opera with folk tunes is more in-your-face than subtle, breathing even more life into the movie’s exaggerations; Austen’s classic was truly never more enjoyable, or funny, on screen.

Upon finishing the film, I ran my hands over a cherished collection of Austen novels on my bookshelf, wondering if the late, great author whose fictional heroines have had a huge impact on me personally, would approve of a millennial generation star like Anya Taylor-Joy taking over Emma in this rather brazen way and making her a pure ‘joy’ to watch on screen.

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