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Jane Austen's Emma has a new leading lady

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
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An amazing cast, a script from a Man Booker prize-winner, a first-time female director… you can see why we’re excited.      

It’s a big day for Jane Austen fans. 

Specifically, it’s a big day for fans of Jane Austen’s Emma, the 1815 novel about anti-heroine Emma Woodhouse who just can’t help herself when it comes to meddling in the romantic lives of her friends and family. 

Austen’s beloved novel was the source material for the 1995 high school film Clueless, a reboot of which was announced today, and it’s also the subject of yet another movie adaptation, this time retaining Austen’s original setting, The Hollywood Reporter reports.

Rising star Anya Taylor-Joy, last seen onscreen in the BBC adaptation of Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist is confirmed to lead the film as our heroine Emma Woodhouse, with music video director Autumn de Wilde to direct from a script penned by Man Booker prize-winning author of The Luminaries Eleanor Catton. 

Gwyneth Paltrow and Toni Collette in the 1996 adaptation of Emma

This is far from the first time Austen’s beloved novel has been adapted on screen. 

There have been three films, including the 1996 version starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Toni Collette and Clueless, as well as a whole load of television versions. Kate Beckinsale and Romola Garai have both played the deliciously witty Austen heroine, as has Doran Godwin in the 1972 BBC mini-series. 

But there’s something about this union of actress, director and screenwriter that has us excited. First, there’s British-Argentinian actress Taylor-Joy, who burst onto the scene with a terrifying turn in horror film The Witch, followed by starring roles in M.Night Shyamalan’s Split alongside Jame McAvoy (she will return in the sequel Glass next year) and the X-Men expanded universe movie The New Mutants with Maisie Williams. 

She also has a biopic of Marie Curie and the fifth season of Peaky Blinders on her plate. With the right amount of smarts and sardonic wit, she’s the perfect person to embody Austen’s difficult, though loveable character. 

Anya Taylor-Joy was last seen onscreen in the BBC’s The Miniaturist

We reckon Taylor-Joy will shine, especially under the direction of Autumn de Wilde who’ll be making her feature film debut. The photographer and director has previously worked mostly in the music and fashion industries, shooting film clips and concert videos for bands including Arcade Fire, Death Cab for Cutie and the fashion brand Rodarte.

But it’s the script by New Zealand author Eleanor Catton that has us most intrigued. Catton remains the youngest winner in the history of the Man Booker prize, winning in 2013 for her 832-page zodiac historical epic The Luminaries when she was just 28. (Catton also holds the record for the longest-ever Booker prize winning work.) In that novel, Catton managed to infuse a mid-19th century New Zealand society mystery with a sense of currency and urgency.

Just imagine what she could do with Austen’s richest, most nuanced work? 

Images: Getty, BBC

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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