Even if you’ve never read Jane Austen’s Emma, you probably know the story without even realizing it. Austen’s novel, less ubiquitous than “you had to read it in middle school” classic Pride & Prejudice, has been adapted for film several times — including the 1996 version starring Gwyneth Paltrow. But the most famous adaptation is 90s classic Clueless. Writer/director Amy Heckering may have changed names and setting in her update, but the general story remained the same: a “handsome, clever, and rich” teenager (Alicia Silverstone’s Cher) befriends a new girl (the dearly departed Brittany Murphy as Tai) and gives her a makeover, falling in love with her pseudo-stepbrother (Paul Rudd’s dreamy Josh) in the process.
In a new adaptation of Austen’s novel, Emma is EMMA. once more, and mid-90s Beverly Hills is once again rural 19th century England, where the wealthy, vain, glorious Emma Wodehouse (The VVitch’s Anya Taylor-Joy) takes Harriet Smith (Suspiria’s Mia Goth) under her wing. The film is gorgeous, thanks to director Autumn de Wilde’s tenure as a photographer, and while the story is no longer “a Noxzema commercial,” it still has a contemporary feeling.
This is mostly thanks to the attention paid to the subtext in Emma and Harriet’s friendship, which has long been coded as queer. Exploring this aspect of their relationship was something de Wilde was passionate about exploring in her new take on the story. According to Taylor-Johnson, they often spoke about Emma and Harriet’s epic blowup (“You’re just a virgin who can’t drive”) as a breakup.
At the film’s London press day, Out spoke with de Wilde and Taylor-Joy about finally acknowledging that Emma and Harriet’s relationship may be the real romance of a film built on romantic entanglements and love triangles. The cast also channeled their best Cher Horowitz impression to pay homage to some of Clueless’ most iconic lines.