The new Emma movie is packed with hidden details that would make even Jane Austen swoon.

When it comes to Jane Austen’s gaggle of famous leading ladies, Emma Woodhouse is often portrayed as the one we’d least like to be trapped next to on a flight.

The subject of Austen’s beloved novel Emma can come across as snobbish, cunning and even downright unlikeable at times, which makes a lot more sense when you realise that’s how the famed author always intended her to be, saying of her literary creation ‘I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.'”

With director Autumn de Wilde’s new big-screen version of Emma, which stars Anya Taylor-Joy in the titular role, we finally see the heroine as Austen always intended us to, as a complex figure caught up in a series of tiny love stories told with sharp humour and clever social commentary.

The fact that Emma Woodhouse doesn’t always score highly on popularity polls is what enticed 23-year-old actress Anya Taylor-Joy, best known for her turns in chilling horror movies The Witch and Split, to play her.

“The fact that Emma can be seen as an unlikeable character is what drew me to her,” Anya told Mamamia.  “I love the fact that she is complicated and has all of these different sides to her. It’s interesting when you have a character where you can really see all her flaws.

“People forget that Jane Austen was actually very, very funny, and Emma had been written that way so I wanted to play her exactly as Austen had described. She can be really cutting at times.”

Just like the book, Emma opens on the 20-year-old protagonist preparing for the wedding of her former governess Mrs Weston (Game of Thrones star Gemma Whelan), a romance she delightfully credits to her own matchmaking skills. Emma then sets her sights on her next pairing of unsuspecting soon-to-be lovebirds.

While filming Emma, the cast and crew walked a fine line between true to the customs of that area while also weaving small physical moments into the scenes to show Emma’s own romantic storyline bubbling away below the surface.

“We always used to say that choreographing the dance scenes in Emma was like shooting a thriller,” Anya told Mamamia. “With all the secretive little glances we had to give each other across the room and then make sure the cameras caught them. These moments tell so much of the story.

“We also had an etiquette teacher with us during filming to keep us all in check. The two things that were impressed most upon me were just how much physical touch is restrained in this world, and so when their hands do touch, especially with the opposite sex,  it’s a very thrilling moment.  I also found drinking tea on screen very stressful, there are a lot of different rules about how you have to do it.


“I kept my cool throughout the entire movie until it came time to film a tea scene.”

“When their hands do touch, especially with the opposite sex, it's a very thrilling moment,” Emma star Anya Taylor-Joy told Mamamia. Source: Universal Pictures.

Throughout the movie, the character of Emma, an unmarried woman who effectively runs her own house after the death of her mother, begins to see the consequences that come from her love of interfering in the lives of others.

Interwoven throughout the story are clues that show just how much she is really changing, clues that explain how she herself finally begins to fall in love.

"It was very important for both Autumn and I that Emma had both a ‘hair story’ and a ‘wardrobe story' happening in the background," Anya said.

"We like to say that at the beginning of the film,  Emma is not really human. The ringlets in her hair are wound so tight, her shoulders are very spiky and all of her clothing choices are very high fashion. Then as the story is going along and Emma is unwinding, her hair gets more and more relaxed. She starts to choose clothing colours that are more from nature and less showy.

"A character like Emma really cares about her clothes, so when I was wearing something like a coat with a fabulous back, I found myself delivering my lines over my shoulder because she’s the kind of person who wants you to look at her clothes and always have the best angle of her."


One of the most surprising new additions to the story is when Emma's nose suddenly starts to bleed during a pivotal moment the movie had been carefully building up to.

"That moment was actually completely scripted," Anya said with a laugh. "The idea was that Emma would get a nosebleed at this very important moment in the film and we had that idea in the script from the very beginning.

"But then for some reason when we began to shoot that scene, it just happened that my nose really started bleeding. I guess I had gotten myself into such a state that I was worked up enough that it started bleeding all by itself. I will never be able to explain it and I will certainly never be able to do it again.

"Everyone around me on set just freaked out when it happened, and so the look of terror you see on my face in that scene is me looking around at everyone and thinking ‘just keep going! Keep filming! This is amazing and we need to capture this.”

Mia Goth as Harriet Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhouse in Emma. Source: Universal Pictures.

The cast of Emma is stacked with prestigious actors, including Bill Nighy (who Anya says is the epitome of coolness) as Emma's father, but one of the strongest story threads in the film belongs to the character of Harriet Smith (Mia Goth).

Harriet is a young unsophisticated girl living in a nearby boarding house who Emma takes under her wing and who then becomes the subject of Emma's misguided matchmaking attempts.


"Mia and I have actually been very close friends for a very long time, so we’ve really been preparing for these roles for years," Anya said, explaining the story behind their unique on-screen chemistry.

"It’s very easy to diminish other roles in this project, especially because the book and the movie are called ‘Emma’. But all of these other characters are so important so we ended up just telling a whole bunch of different love stories.

"There’s a real love story between Emma and Harriet. Mia and I talk about the bust-up between Harriet and Emma in the movie as the biggest breakup of all time, that’s how much it affected us to film it. It was so upsetting."

"Emma is really a wonderful satirical story and comments on so many important subjects. The world is a really scary place right now and this is a story of different fantasies being fulfilled and also of redemption.

"It’s good people treating each other with kindness, and we could all use a bit of that right now."

Emma is playing in Australian cinemas now, it is rated PG.

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