In 1800s England, a well meaning but selfish young woman meddles in the love lives of her friends.
Emma Woodhouse is a rich, beautiful, and vain woman who meddles in the love affairs of her friends. She dissuades her friend Harriet Smith from marrying a good farmer named Robert Smith in favor of the vicar Mr. Elton. However, Mr. Elton attempts to court Emma, who does not reciprocate his feelings.
Emma finds herself attracted to Mr. George Knightley, but also considers a relationship with Frank Churchill.
After Emma’s actions make her realize she has been less than kind, she makes amends to Harriet and gets Robert to propose to her again, which she accepts. Emma ends up marrying Mr. Knightley.
In Regency-era England, wealthy Emma Woodhouse searches for a new companion after her governess, Miss Taylor, marries and becomes Mrs. Weston. Emma settles on Harriet Smith, a younger girl whom Emma supposes is the unclaimed child of a gentleman; Harriet’s parents are unknown but her education has been provided for. Emma learns that Mr. Robert Martin, a tenant farmer of her sister’s husband’s brother, Mr. Knightley, has proposed to Harriet. Though claiming she will not interfere, Emma manipulates Harriet into declining Mr. Martin’s offer of marriage, much to Harriet’s distress. Emma believes that Mr. Elton, the local vicar, is in love with Harriet and encourages Harriet to transfer her hopes to him.
At Christmas time, Emma’s older sister and Mr. Knightley’s younger brother come to visit. After everyone leaves dinner with the Westons early, Emma finds herself alone in a carriage with Mr. Elton, who declares his love for her. Emma promptly refuses him and Mr. Elton disappears for six weeks, eventually returning with a wife. Two much-talked-about members of Emma’s social circle appear: Jane Fairfax, the governess niece of Miss Bates, and Frank Churchill, Mr. Weston’s son from his first marriage. Emma grows jealous of Jane, but is entranced by Frank.
Frank’s arrival prompts the Westons to hold a ball, where Mr. Elton embarrasses Harriet by pointedly refusing to dance with her. She is rescued by Mr. Knightley, who asks her to dance. Emma and Mr. Knightley also dance together, awakening romantic feelings between them. Though Emma leaves before Mr. Knightley can speak to her, he runs to her home only for their meeting to be interrupted by Frank, who has rescued Harriet after she was set upon by gypsies. Harriet intimates to Emma that she has fallen in love again, leading Emma to believe Harriet is in love with Frank. Emma again vows not to interfere, but manipulates circumstances so that Harriet and Frank may spend more time together.
Emma tries to spend more time with Mr. Knightley and is surprised when he repeatedly ignores her. On a picnic with their entire party of social acquaintances, Frank urges them to play a game to amuse Emma, who unthinkingly insults Miss Bates, leading the party to disband in discomfort. Mr. Knightley rebukes Emma for her behaviour, and a humiliated Emma apologizes to Miss Bates, who accepts her apology without question.
Frank Churchill’s wealthy aunt dies, and he is no longer required to be at her beck and call. The Westons reveal that he has been secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax and was waiting for the death of his aunt, who was opposed to the match. The Westons had hoped he would marry Emma, but Emma is only distressed on account of Harriet. Emma breaks the news to Harriet, who reveals that she is actually in love with Mr. Knightley. Harriet realizes that Emma herself is in love with Mr. Knightley.
Mr. Knightley goes to Emma to comfort her about the news of Frank, and to reveal that he is in love with her and hopes to marry her. Initially pleased with his offer of marriage, Emma develops a nosebleed when she realizes how upset Harriet will be. Interfering one last time, she goes to Mr. Martin to make amends, offering him a portrait of Harriet she drew herself. Harriet tells Emma she has accepted Mr. Martin’s offer of marriage, and that her father has revealed himself now that she is of age; he is not a gentleman, but a tradesman who makes galoshes. Emma congratulates Harriet and invites her and her father to her home.
Though Emma and Mr. Knightley are very much in love, Emma is distressed at the thought of leaving her father alone. To accommodate her wishes, Mr. Knightley suggests that rather than have Emma quit her father’s home, he join them there. Emma happily agrees and the two are married.
The film opens by introducing Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), described as “handsome, clever, and rich.” She goes to bring flowers to her friend, Ms. Taylor, as she is set to marry that day. Emma attends the wedding with her father (Bill Nighy). She takes credit for setting Ms. Taylor up with her new husband. At the wedding, Emma finds herself pestered by Ms. Bates (Miranda Hart) and her constant chatter, while also discussing Frank Churchill (Callum Turner), the son of Mr. Weston (Rupert Graves) with her father.
The Woodhouses are later visited in their Hartfield home by Mr. George Knightley (Johnny Flynn), who is her sister’s brother-in-law. He and Emma also discuss Frank’s absence from the wedding, with their conversation sounding argumentative.
Emma’s friend Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) pays her a visit. Harriet comes from a boarding school where she met the Martin sisters, and their farmer brother Robert (Connor Swindells) pursued Harriet. Emma takes Harriet to meet the local vicar, Mr. Philip Elton (Josh O’Connor), in an attempt to pair them together. On their way back to Emma’s home, Harriet suggests that she marry next, but Emma has no interest in a married or working life.
While at a dress shop, Emma and Harriet are met by Ms. Bates, who shares another story about her niece, Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson), who is said to be very accomplished. Emma tires of hearing Ms. Bates talk about Jane, as she tends to repeat her stories. As they walk back, Harriet stops to chat with Robert, to Emma’s dismay.
Emma later draws Harriet’s likeness as a gift to Mr. Elton, who has it framed. After a talk with Mr. Knightley, Robert asks for Harriet’s hand in marriage, which excites her, even though Emma attempts to talk her out of it to set her up with Mr. Elton. Mr. Knightley hears about Harriet turning Robert down, which he argues with Emma about.
Emma, her father, Mr. Knightley, and others attend a dinner party at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Cole, where more arguments and prodding at Emma’s love life occur, but she shares laughs and conversation with Mr. Knightley. After the dinner, Emma rides a coach home with Mr. Elton, who attempts to make a pass at her, as he believed that Emma was in love with him. She turns him down and tells him she was trying to get him with Harriet. Emma later tells Harriet about this, but she does not hold it against Emma. However, she does attempt to burn the picture ofher, but instead only throws the frame into the fireplace since Mr. Elton gave it to her.
Jane comes to visit, and much attention is brought to her many accomplishments over a dinner that Ms. Bates throws. Jane shows off her musical talent by singing and playing the piano. Emma has a clear envy over Jane’s success and education, given that they are the same age.
Emma and Harriet are met by Robert and his sisters, and it is clear that he still loves Harriet, and she feels the same, regretful for rejecting him.
Frank comes to visit his family for an extended stay. Emma spends some time with him as accompanies him into town and to gathering where Jane has received a piano from a mysterious admirer, suggested to be Mr. Knightley. This appears to irk Emma.
At another wedding, Mr. Elton brings his new wife, Mrs. Augusta Elton (Tanya Reynolds), whom he met during a brief stay in Bath. Everyone later attends a ball thrown by the Westons, where Mr. Elton publicly snubs Harriet for a dance, reducing her to tears. Mr. Knightley steps in and offers himself to dance with Harriet, which cheers her up. Emma then shares a dance with Mr. Knightley, and their attraction toward one another appears more obvious, but Emma leaves before Mr. Knightley can tell her anymore of how he feels.
Emma joins everyone at a trip to Mr. Knightley’s abbey. During a chat, Emma casually insults Ms. Bates and deeply offends her, creating a major tension. After everyone else leaves, Mr. Knightley scolds Emma for her behavior, causing her to feel great shame and make her cry. She later goes to visit Ms. Bates and Jane to make amends with a basket of food.
Emma later learns from the Westons that Frank has had to leave due to the passing of his aunt, but it is also revealed that he and Jane had been secretly engaged, and it was he who delivered her the piano. When Emma tells Harriet about the engagement, she thinks Harriet will be upset over a believed love for Frank, but she was in love with Mr. Knightley. Harriet then realizes that Emma feels something for him and is upset since she had listened to her about not marrying Robert. Harriet leaves upset, and Emma feels worse.
Emma is approached by Mr. Knightley, who tries to console her over her sadness. He confesses his love and proposes to her, but Emma cannot accept until she has made amends with Harriet. She pays Robert a visit and tries to explain herself over her actions. Robert then goes to propose to Harriet again, and she accepts.
Emma and Mr. Knightley finally give in to their mutual affections and become engaged. They are later married, with many of their closest friends and family in attendance.