Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a well-conceived French pic that is well worth the effort to see. It won't be on the wide distribution circuit, nor will Emma, which is also worth seeing.
One has an all-French cast and the other an all-British one. Both are excellent. The French one is set in the 1770s at a massive castle house in Brittany, right on the sea. The two leads are a young woman about to be sent off to marry a rich husband in Italy and a slightly older woman who has been hired to paint the first lady without her catching on. It's sort of a wedding present for the bridegroom but also is being done to ensure that she shows up, because her sister opted out--of life--to skip her wedding.
Eventually she figures out what's going on but surprisingly, the two get on famously, in fact, more than that. Things definitely get intense between the two of them and they also befriend a servant girl who needs an abortion, so we also get to see the social crusaders of the day. Adèle Haenel is a lovely-looking actress who plays the bride, while Noémie Merlant is more "interesting looking."
I found the story worth following and the acting and directing were top-notch. The sex scene--there's only one brief one--is nicely done and hardly leering or offensive.
Emma is just the latest movie or miniseries based on a Jane Austen novel. Most of the critics recalled, as did I, that the best adaptation so far was the film Clueless, where Alicia Silverstone plays a California rich kid trying to remake her friend who's new to the high school so she can join the in crowd and find romance. Amy Heckerling, who directed the classic Fast Times at Ridgemount High, helmed that one.
Here we have a cast of good Brit performers who were all new to me since I haven't resided in the U.K. for too many years. Anya Taylor-Joy is the title character and she is delightful as the heart of the story and the picture. Johnny Flynn is Mr. Right and Callum Turner is Mr. Wrong. Taylor-Joy makes the lead believable as a 21-year-old who enjoys her privileged life but tries to help a less well-born friend find an upper-class husband.
The veteran Bill Nighy is, as always, an absolute delight as her hypochondriac father, and everyone else fits in nicely. Needless to say, the settings in English country houses are magnificent and a lot of Jane Austen's social satire comes through loud and clear.
I liked the music--a combo of lots of Mozart, one major Beethoven sonata, some Haydn, and lots of English folk tunes. The hapless vicar who gets into the plot as a would-be suitor when he isn't marrying others, played by Josh O'Connor, is a cross between the stiff Mr. Bliffel in Tom Jones and Rowan Atkinson's classic purveyor of malapropisms in Four Weddings and a Funeral.