Stars: Emma Mackey Fionn Whitehead, Olive Jackson-Cohen, Alexandra Dowling, Amelia Gething, Adrian Dunbar and Gemma Jones
Director/Scriptwriter: Frances O’Connor
Composer: Abel Korzeniowski
Cinematography: Nanu Segal
Embankment Films/Bleeker Street
Rating: PG 13
Running Length: 130 Minutes
The Bronte Family was famous, is famous and will continue to be famous. For women to write such interesting novels about love, women having no choices in life, and having to use a pseudo-name when submitting a novel to a publisher. Such was life in the early 1800’s, Yorkshire, England. That the novels were published to acclaim and have honors into our time, is a marvel unto, itself. This film is about Emily Bronte, the younger of the Bronte sisters. Actress Emma Mackey takes on the role of a girl coming into her own and disliking having to stand aside for men. This reflects in all of the girls’ novels. Older sister Charlotte (died in 1855) wrote “Jane Eyre,” Emily came along with “Wuthering Heights” (died in 1848) and younger sister, Anne (died in 1849.) wrote “Acton Bell.” The brother in the family, Branwell (died in 1848), was also a writer and poet. As you can see, the life expectancy at that time was precarious and tuberculous a potential killer.
Director/scriptwriter Frances O’Connor had a solid acting basis (“Madame Bovary” for one) before going into writing and directing. Her script centers on the dying Emily (Emma Mackey) reminiscing on how she became a writer and that (as has been suspected by scholars since) she had a possible love interest. Older sister Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling) is with Emily (as the story is told) when Emily has graduated from a private school and is home for s visit. The girls had created characters before to amuse themselves, and Emily wants to continue, but Charlotte says that is juvenile. Meanwhile, there is a new church curate in the neighborhood (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who comes for a courtesy call. As entertainment, the group plays a game where someone wears a mask and the others guess who is character is. Things go awry. Later, Emily goes to school to become a teacher while Bramwell goes to a Royal Academy. Both fail and are soon home. Emily begins to learn French from the curate while Branwell gets into mischief. It is at this point that historian’s debate whether Emily and the curate have a relationship or not. Judge for yourself. Later, Emily writes the Barnwell classic “Wuthering Heights,” and who can forget Sir Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon in the 1939 classic film.
Interesting to the audience, is how writing develops within a person. It is there, or not. You can either create a scenario and characters that literally breathe or all you can do is write a grocery list. The Bronte Family was an exception. Writing talent there was overflowing. One wonders what our reading would be like had Bronte family members lived longer and produced more books, even plays. Living as secluded as they did gives intensity to their writings, like a grey cloud over head that fades in and out. Also, deception is in families and also in the Bronte’s. It can creep in, unannounced, at any time.
Acting is intense, especially by Emma Mackey as Emily, who is the neglected one in the family, with the father showing favoritism to Charlotte and Branwell. Characters have some kind of personal problem, either in the mind or physical. This was not a healthy age in which to live. Emily Bronte died at age 30 and really, not that much is known about her. One wonders if there was more and family members destroyed her work, and if “Wuthering Heights” was her one-and-only novel.
The moors seem to have a mystic effect on writers and the words, “lonely and lost,” come to mind. The type of weather in Yorkshire where the Bronte’s lived, may have had an influence on their writing. “Wuthering Heights”’ concerns the moors, while “Jane Eyre” is about adjusting to a new household and the servitude of a live-in tutor. There are definitely society levels and characters in their books, who start at the bottom and have to work their way upward. To express this at their time period, was bravery.
Copyright 2023 Marie Asner