WE have become accustomed in period dramas to bonnets and carriages and cotillions all over the shop, but when did bare male bottoms become standard?

Following the trend set by Andrew Davies’ Sanditon last year (more buns than Greggs), a rump appears in the first ten minutes of Autumn de Wilde’s Emma. It seems to be there for no apparent reason other than as a mark of modernity, a sign that there is going to be nothing stuffy about this adaptation. I blame Colin Firth and that wet shirt.

De Wilde’s take on Austen duly features a cast of hip young actors, plus Miranda Hart and Bill Nighy as Miss Bates and Mr Woodhouse respectively. Our heroine is played by Anya Taylor-Joy (Peaky Blinders), with Josh O’Connor as pompous clergyman Mr Elton and Johnny Flynn as Emma’s handsome and principled neighbour George Knightley.

Miss Emma Woodhouse has a passion in life: matchmaking. Believing herself uniquely gifted in this area she sets about pairing off men and women of her acquaintance according to how she sees their station in life. Like must be paired with like, or as one character observes, “Everyone has their level.”

Everyone, it seems, except Emma who has no interest in a match for herself. Content to be the lady of the house and look after her father (Nighy), she schemes away blithely as if she were playing with dolls rather than individuals with feelings and free will, all of which dismays Mr Knightley, her verbal sparring partner.

What distinguishes this Emma, apart from the young cast of up and comers, is its visual flair. Meticulously styled in ice cream colours, it is a Laura Ashley catalogue come to life. While not as edgy as Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, it shares much of its palette.

The screenplay by Eleanor Catton zips along, and the plot follows suit. From curtain patterns to pacing, this is a busy picture. Taylor-Joy makes a wonderful Emma, playing her as ahead of her time in how she regards a woman’s place. First, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women and now this: the period romp truly is being given a feminist makeover. The cast as a whole is strong, even if Nighy reprises that kindly old duffer act of his for the umpteenth time.

If anything this Emma is all too sweet and lovely. Sharp moments bring the piece alive, but they are all too rare. The overwhelming impression is of watching one enormous faff. It does not help that the score is lethally jaunty, forcefully signposting what is supposed to be funny.

A dandy enough choice for Valentine’s week, but not a picture to fall head over heels for.