The cast of 'Emma' explains why it's so important to keep reinventing the Jane Austen novel (exclusive)

Tom ButlerSenior Editor
Yahoo Movies

Take note, literary-minded movie buffs: Rock photographer Autumn de Wilde’s spirited new adaptation of Jane Austen’s romantic novel Emma is coming soon.

The vibrant and funny film is a largely faithful reinterpretation of Austen’s 1815 book, with Split star Anya Taylor-Joy in the title role of Emma Woodhouse, a charming but shallow society matchmaker who finds joy bringing couples together but is herself unlucky in love.

As with previous adaptations, like the 1996 version starring Gwyneth Paltrow — or more loose ones like Clueless — Emma’s well-meaning actions often land the spoiled heroine in trouble.

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De Wilde’s debut film, adapted by Man Booker Prize-winning author Eleanor Catton, is delightfully mannered, finding rich seams of drama and comedy in the etiquette of the Regency period, and its cast tells Yahoo that, while matchmaking may have evolved, romance hasn’t.

“[Emma] has universal themes,” Bill Nighy, who plays Emma’s father in the film, tells Yahoo.

Mia Goth and Anya Taylor-Joy take a stroll in a still from <em>Emma</em>. (Photo: Focus Features)
Mia Goth and Anya Taylor-Joy take a stroll in a still from Emma. (Photo: Focus Features)

“They’re famous elements of human behavior, from Emma’s control-freakery to coming a cropper doing all that kind of thing ... match-making the wrong people, making all kinds of mistakes.

“These are great themes and people don’t change. The clothes change, the technology changes, apart from that, the range of human behavior is narrow-ish ... and people pretty much respond to the world in the same way throughout time. So, it’s always relevant.”

Bill Nighy as Emma's father, Mr. Woodhouse. (Photo: Focus Features)
Bill Nighy as Emma's father, Mr. Woodhouse. (Photo: Focus Features)

Living with her father in the fictional Surrey village of Highbury, Emma is too busy trying to find suitors for her friends that she fails to see that her own perfect match is right in front of her eyes.

It’s this short-sightedness that Johnny Flynn, cast as the rugged George Knightley, thinks revisiting Austen’s work helps 21st-century society and culture to avoid.

Johnny Flynn as George Knightley in a still from <em>Emma</em>. (Photo: Focus Features)
Johnny Flynn as George Knightley in a still from Emma. (Photo: Focus Features)

“If we don’t keep reinventing these classic texts, we lose a lifeline to the past,” Flynn tells us.

“And therefore a deeper sense of self-knowledge of our journey through history as human beings. The thing you get from looking at society in the past, is [you see that] beneath the difference in etiquette and language, and how people talk to each other, there’s still love and friendship, and people, and we realize what’s really important.

Mia Goth's Harriet Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy's Emma Woodhouse take tea in a still from <em>Emma</em>. (Photo: Focus Features)
Mia Goth's Harriet Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy's Emma Woodhouse take tea in a still from Emma. (Photo: Focus Features)

“And some of the stuff that’s celebrated in Emma, people are losing touch with today, so I think it’s a great thing to do for each generation that rediscovers this book.”

Emma comes to U.S. cinemas on Friday, Feb. 21. Watch a trailer below.

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