De Wilde's Emma -- styled Emma., period included -- is not a radical reinvention of its source material. (Leave that to Clueless.) This new version is a faithful interpretation of Austen's 1815 novel that's nevertheless very funny, meticulously styled in hues that give it a marzipan-like aesthetic. De Wilde, who has photographed campaigns for Rodarte, balks at the faded yellow tones of some other adaptations' costumes: "They weren't antique then." Anya Taylor-Joy, of The Witch fame, is de Wilde's "handsome, clever, and rich" heroine, the vain Miss Woodhouse who adores getting involved in other people's affairs, but refuses to deal with her own feelings. Her Mr. Knightley -- the tale's foil-slash-love interest -- is Johnny Flynn, a folk musician and actor familiar to Netflix viewers as the lead of the rom-com Lovesick, formerly known as Scrotal Recall. (Flynn recorded a new song for the film.)
Even as de Wilde sticks to the strict codes of the period, her interpretation is not sexless. In fact, she throws in a surprising bit of nudity when we watch Knightley throw off his clothes in frustration near the beginning of the movie. "Mr. Knightley is the moral compass. He's going to be bossing her around a lot," de Wilde says. "I thought that I needed to undress him and say this is a man who is vulnerable." And, on top of that, Austen's characters wouldn't have been wearing underwear, she notes. At one point, Emma lifts up her skirts to warm her posterior by a fireplace, a moment inspired by a caricature de Wilde saw.
De Wilde envisioned her Emma. as a musical with no singing, and instructed her composer Isobel Waller-Bridge (Phoebe's sister) to "write in the key of the voice of the actor." Drawing on cartoons like Looney Tunes, pieces like Peter and the Wolf, and children's classics like Pollyanna, she wanted each character to have an instrument that would signify his or her sound. The pompous Mr. Elton (Josh O'Connor) is a bassoon, for instance.