This is a Valentine’s Day cracker: BRIAN VINER reviews new movie version of Emma 

Emma (U)

Verdict: Lavish step back in time 

Rating:

Sonic the Hedgehog (PG)

Verdict: More chronic than tonic

Rating:

What could be a bigger treat for Valentine’s Day than a new adaptation of a Jane Austen novel? In truth, you can probably think of quite a few contenders.

Do we really need another excursion back a couple of centuries, another immersion into Austen’s restrained world of pianoforte recitals and formal dances, where no man dares say quite how much he fancies the girl with the handsome embonpoint, and no (nice) woman ever throws herself at the dish in the shiny breeches?

Well, here’s a version of Emma that surprisingly rewards the trip back in time, in which Anya Taylor-Joy excels as Austen’s least lovable heroine.

This version of Emma surprisingly rewards the trip back in time in which Anya Taylor-Joy (pictured) excels as Austen's least lovable heroine

This version of Emma surprisingly rewards the trip back in time in which Anya Taylor-Joy (pictured) excels as Austen’s least lovable heroine

Within the past 25 years, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Beckinsale and Romola Garai have all played Emma Woodhouse, a meddling matchmaker who, in her creator’s words on the novel’s very first page, is in danger of ‘having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself’.

Back in the mid-1990s, a time when the BBC might easily have stood for Bosoms, Bonnets and Carriages, a film called Clueless came out. It was the cinematic interpretation of Emma that I still rate above all others, largely because it was counter-intuitively set in 20th-century Beverly Hills. 

The meddler went by the name of Cher Horowitz and was played by Alicia Silverstone. They don’t all need bonnets.

Still, it’s nice to be reminded that there’s still a place for a back-to-basics approach. This Emma is done with great vigour, wit and charm — so much so that I defy anyone to roll their eyes at all those social affectations in which Austen specialises, all those misunderstandings that flourish in the chasm between the sexes.

The director is Autumn de Wilde — not an obvious choice, even though hers is a name to light up any list of credits. 

She is an American music video veteran who has never made a full-length feature film before.

But with the help of cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, a fellow American, and screenwriter Eleanor Catton, a New Zealander, she evokes Regency England beautifully. 

Emma can't stop herself from trying to manipulate the romantic destinies of her friends, notably that of her guileless companion, the low-born Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), who she decides to fix up with the oleaginous vicar, Mr Elton (Josh O'Connor)

Emma can’t stop herself from trying to manipulate the romantic destinies of her friends, notably that of her guileless companion, the low-born Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), who she decides to fix up with the oleaginous vicar, Mr Elton (Josh O’Connor) 

This is a truly sumptuous-looking film (whether the sumptuousness includes one entirely gratuitous shot of Johnny Flynn in the altogether, you’ll have to decide for yourself).

Incidentally, this year’s Bafta awards introduced a prize for casting — overdue recognition for a vital skill in the film-making process. And toppers doffed here, because in all but a couple of cases the casting couldn’t be more perfect.

Taylor-Joy will just have to forgive me for observing that she lacks the distracting modern-day beauty of some of those other screen Emmas. 

She looks exactly as if she might have stepped out of a long-ago century; one of the many reasons she was so compelling in her 2015 leading role debut The Witch. She looks, moreover, as if she might be a bit of a handful, which Emma certainly is at the start of the story.

Similarly, Bill Nighy unleashes all his fluttery mannerisms with fey abandon as a very funny Mr Woodhouse, Emma’s precious father, endlessly worried about catching a chill.

Flynn, too, is just right as Emma’s old friend and verbal sparring partner George Knightley (though Austen will be looking down through her delicate fingers, or more likely calling for the celestial smelling salts, during the scene in which he is being dressed by his valet, and fleetingly flashes a sturdy derriere).

Clothed or unclothed, Flynn suits period dramas. He was excellent in ITV’s Vanity Fair a couple of years ago. 

Maybe it’s those lavish sideburns he wears so well. They place him either at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, or in about 1974, behind the wheel of a Ford Capri.

On the whole, the narrative cleaves to the novel.

Bill Nighy (pictured) unleashes all his fluttery mannerisms with fey abandon as a very funny Mr Woodhouse, Emma's precious father, endlessly worried about catching a chill

Bill Nighy (pictured) unleashes all his fluttery mannerisms with fey abandon as a very funny Mr Woodhouse, Emma’s precious father, endlessly worried about catching a chill

The incorrigible Emma can’t stop herself from trying to manipulate the romantic destinies of her friends, notably that of her guileless companion, the low-born Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), who has caught the eye of a wholesome tenant farmer. 

But Emma decides to fix her up with the oleaginous vicar, Mr Elton (Josh O’Connor), instead.

Naturally, this being Jane Austen, he has set his sights on someone else, someone higher up the social ladder.

But there are also a few liberties of which ardent Janeites will not approve. Kissing, for starters. And a secret engagement that on the written page seems so shocking induces no gasps here.

Also, I wondered about the casting of Callum Turner, though a fine young actor, as Frank Churchill. Does he look like a man to set female hearts all aflutter?

Not according to my wife, a novelist herself, who is devoted to all of Austen’s books. She sat alongside me at the screening, and uttered what in the circumstances was best described as a harrumph. 

Afterwards, she suggested that Emma, more than most Austen novels, is better suited to a TV dramatisation over several episodes than to cinema. The title character has to be given a chance to mature, which is not easily done in a couple of hours.

She might be right. But all I can report is that the smile hardly ever left my face, and there were a few actual chuckles too, most of them supplied by Miranda Hart.

She is delightful (though my wife thought her miscast) as poor old Miss Bates, at least until she ends up as the victim of Emma’s waspish tongue at a singularly awkward Box Hill picnic. 

Unsurprisingly, given the director’s pedigree, music looms large and loud in this film. Orchestras swell and string quartets swoon. Sweetly, the score also includes some old English folk songs.

The co-composer is Isobel Waller-Bridge, whose sister Phoebe has had a hand in the screenplay of the forthcoming new Bond film — a very different kettle of fish indeed, in which it’s safe to assume that 007 will utter nothing as romantic as Mr Knightley’s immortal line: ‘If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.’

You have to admit, that’s a corker for Valentine’s Day.

The story sees Sonic — who, as I'm sure you're aware, is an intergalactic adventurer capable of moving at supersonic speeds — landing in the fictional town of Green Hills, Montana

The story sees Sonic — who, as I’m sure you’re aware, is an intergalactic adventurer capable of moving at supersonic speeds — landing in the fictional town of Green Hills, Montana

Recently, I interviewed the Forrest Gump and Back To The Future director Robert Zemeckis, who mused that 30 years from now cinema will look different because influences on film-makers are evolving all the time. 

‘Television changed the way films were made, then TV commercials, then music videos, and now the internet,’ he said cheerfully.

He’s right, of course, but that doesn’t stop me getting prickly about Sonic the Hedgehog. There’s something about films inspired by video-game franchises that seems so commercially cold and calculating. Shouldn’t it at least be the other way around?

Maybe I should just chill out. Maybe, cashing in on the success of video-game characters is not that far removed from adapting books such as Emma.

To do it properly, though, means getting the look absolutely right. All hell broke loose among Sonic fans when the trailer came out last year, and the computer-generated hedgehog looked all wrong.

Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) has been befriended by the Green Hills sheriff, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), who must keep him out of Robotnik's fiendish clutches

Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) has been befriended by the Green Hills sheriff, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), who must keep him out of Robotnik’s fiendish clutches 

So the release date was pushed back several months, and here we are. He still doesn’t look remotely like a hedgehog, but the gamers are happy.

The story sees Sonic — who, as I’m sure you’re aware, is an intergalactic adventurer capable of moving at supersonic speeds — landing in the fictional town of Green Hills, Montana.

He accidentally causes a massive power cut, and the political and military top brass decide to send in a mad, evil scientist, Dr Robotnik (an off-the-leash Jim Carrey), to investigate.

By now, Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) has been befriended by the Green Hills sheriff, Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), who must keep him out of Robotnik’s fiendish clutches.

It’s all moderate fun, in a crazy way, and there are a few references to the Fast And Furious films intended to keep grown-ups entertained — but considering the children it’s mostly aimed at, there’s an awful lot of comic- book violence.

I can see it having the same sugar-rush effect on some kids as the entire contents of a pick ‘n’ mix stand — so don’t say you haven’t been warned.

In a post-Oscar slump, look out for Branagh’s triple bill…

The weeks immediately after the Academy Awards are traditionally a thin time for film releases, and this year is no different. Little is happening until the cinematic event of the year, Daniel Craig’s swansong as James Bond, in early April.

So in this rather fallow period, it seems timely to remind ourselves of some treats yet to come in 2020, starting with 007 himself…

No Time To Die

The rumours have been swirling around the 25th Bond film since 2015’s Spectre. For a while we didn’t know whether Daniel Craig was going to play 007 for the fifth time, then director Danny Boyle left the production over ‘creative differences’, then Phoebe Waller-Bridge joined the writing team, reportedly at Craig’s insistence.

Boyle was replaced by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the first American to direct an official Bond film. 

He is an intriguing choice, too, because he only has three cinema features under his belt, and is better known for his TV work (True Detective). The film’s arch-villain is played by Rami Malek. 

If he is still wearing those dentures he sported as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, he will be scary indeed.

But once Bond has got the better of him, as he surely will, we can concern ourselves with the biggest question of all: who is going to be the next man — or first woman! — to play the world’s most famous secret agent? Opens April 2.

Artemis Fowl

Sir Kenneth Branagh directs this long-awaited Disney adaptation of the original ‘young adult’ fantasy novel by Eoin Colfer, about a brilliant criminal mastermind, aged 12.

There are lots more books to turn into films should there be an appetite for them, so inevitably there have been suggestions that Artemis Fowl could be the new Harry Potter.

Whatever, the project has been cooking for a long time, going right back to 2001. It has even survived the association of Harvey Weinstein, who was removed as producer following his disgrace.

Dame Judi Dench co-stars, with young Irish actor Ferdia Shaw in the title role. His grandfather, who died long before he was born, was Robert Shaw, famous for From Russia With Love, The Sting and, perhaps most of all, for being eaten alive in Jaws. Opens May 29.

Tenet

British writer-director Christopher Nolan made three films in the decade just gone: The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Interstellar (2014) and Dunkirk (2017).

That’s a pretty impressive trio by anyone’s standards, so expectations are sky-high for Tenet, a big-budget spy thriller about frantic attempts to avoid World War III. 

It stars John David Washington (Denzel’s boy), Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki. 

Oh, and look out for a couple of knights rising further down the credits — Sir Michael Caine, a Nolan regular, and the ubiquitous Sir Kenneth Branagh. Opens July 17.

Kenneth Branagh is getting set for his second stab at an Agatha Christie adaptation - this time with Death on the Nile - which is set to open on October 9

Kenneth Branagh is getting set for his second stab at an Agatha Christie adaptation – this time with Death on the Nile – which is set to open on October 9

Top Gun: Maverick

In 2012, two years after he agreed to make this sequel to his own memorable 1986 film, British director Tony Scott committed suicide.

But after some uncertainty the project survived that tragedy, with Tom Cruise reprising his role as one of the U.S. Navy’s greatest aviators. He’s now a seen-it-all veteran but, naturally, still flying up a storm. 

Miles Teller plays his protege. Another veteran of the original film, Val Kilmer, also returns. 

Promisingly, the co-writer is Chris McQuarrie, who has written for Cruise in the Jack Reacher and Mission: Impossible films. Opens July 17.

Death on the Nile

It’s Branagh’s year! His 2017 stab at an Agatha Christie adaptation, Murder on the Orient Express, was a disappointment; many of us derived more fun from the elaborate, scene-stealing moustache Branagh sported as Hercule Poirot than we did from the actual film.

But I look forward to seeing whether he can do a better job this time round. 

His cast is less starry than before, but just as intriguing, with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders featuring, alongside Gal Gadot, Annette Bening, Armie Hammer, Sophie Okonedo and, er, Russell Brand. Opens October 9.

West Side Story

Frankly, if I was asked which classic screen musical was least in need of a remake, the wonderful 1961 film West Side Story would probably vie with The Sound Of Music for the No 1 spot.

So why has Steven Spielberg, of all people, decided to have another crack at reinterpreting one of the greatest stage collaborations, between Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) and Jerome Robbins (choreography), of all time?

We’ll have to wait until December to find out. But I can at least tell you that it features Rita Moreno, who won an Academy Award for her role as Anita in the original film. By the time the movie comes out, she’ll be 89. Opens December 18.

The Vulture

Mail critics’ pick of the week’s must-see events

On Show

BRITISH BAROQUE

This is a suitably splendid show. 

It’s the first one ever to be devoted to the Baroque in Britain — and about time, too. 

Baroque works best when all the arts are involved, and the whole effect is often greater than the sum of its parts. 

This exhibition proves that point, with paintings, architecture, decorative arts and furniture assaulting the senses on all sides.

  • British Baroque: Power and Illusion, Tate Britain, London, until April 19.

ROBIN SIMON

British Baroque: Power and Illusion will feature at the Tate Britain, London, until April 19

British Baroque: Power and Illusion will feature at the Tate Britain, London, until April 19

On Stage

UPSTART CROW

David Mitchell makes his West End debut as Will Shakespeare in Ben Elton’s stage adaptation of his own TV comedy, co-starring Gemma Whelan as Kate. 

Featuring the rest of the telly crew, Mark Heap is Dr John Hall, Helen Monks plays the Bard’s stroppy daughter, and Steve Speirs is Burbage the actor. 

Here, Will tries to secure his name for posterity in the wake of a couple of theatrical flops.

  • Previewing now, opens Monday, Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 6AR (0844 482 5151 at 7p per minute, upstartcrowthe comedy.com).

PATRICK MARMION

David Mitchell makes his West End debut as Will Shakespeare in Ben Elton's stage adaptation of his own TV comedy, co-starring Gemma Whelan as Kate

David Mitchell makes his West End debut as Will Shakespeare in Ben Elton’s stage adaptation of his own TV comedy, co-starring Gemma Whelan as Kate

On Tour

THE 1975

The Cheshire quartet, led by Matty Healy, limber up for their fourth album by starting a tour at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham tomorrow. 

The new album, due out in April, is the follow-up to 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. 

It has already produced one supremely catchy single in Me & You Together Song. 

Rising singer Beabadoobee supports on all dates.

ADRIAN THRILLS

The Cheshire quartet, led by Matty Healy (pictured), limber up for their fourth album by starting a tour at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham tomorrow

The Cheshire quartet, led by Matty Healy (pictured), limber up for their fourth album by starting a tour at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham tomorrow

On TV

HOMELAND

After nine years fighting terrorists, everyone’s favourite bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is back in the final season of the thrilling U.S. drama. 

As we rejoin Carrie, she’s broken after spending months in a Russian gulag — but old mentor Saul Berenson soon needs her help in Afghanistan.

MIKE MULVIHILL 

After nine years fighting terrorists, everyone’s favourite bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is back in the final season of the thrilling U.S. drama

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk

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