Review: ‘Emily’

An impressive insight into the life of Emily Brontë, director Frances O’Connor makes an exceptional directorial debut in the gripping film ‘Emily’. The captivating biopic shines a light on the Brontë legacy and we gain a deeper understanding behind the lens of the acclaimed author. 

Starring Emma Mackey (‘Sex Education’) she plays a stunning depiction of ‘Wuthering Heights’ author Emily Brontë. She also stars alongside Alexandra Dowling and Amelia Gething who play her sisters Charlotte and Anne. The film dives into the life of the introverted and often outcasted sibling, Emily Brontë. Finding her voice and her place as a young woman in the mid 1800s, the film explores her strong sibling bond and forbidden and intense love for William Weightman. Giving life to characters through her remarkable writing, the biopic guides us through the imagined life of Emily Brontë. As readers, we are engulfed in the plots of a novel and it is easy to forget that the authors have a reality of their own. The film allows us to conceptualise her life in the run up to the creation of ‘Wuthering Heights’.

The film explores Emily grappling with her sense of identity, as an outsider in both her family and society, she has an internal pull to recluse. The beginning of the film examines the dynamics of her family, viewed as the black sheep Emily becomes labelled as the odd and introverted sibling. Hiding in the shadow of her older sister Charlotte, an archetype of a perfect daughter, Emily begins to realise that following her sister is not her intended path. With Charlotte setting a high precedent, Emily is also lost in a reality where she has to follow her father’s expectations of her. She had already witnessed Charlotte lose sight of her writing capabilities whilst following the pursuit of her father’s wishes. Not wanting this for herself, Emily decides to stay at her family home and not pursue life as a teacher. A poignant part in the film, this moment accelerated her life on a new course, as it leads to self exploration.

With her sister Charlotte out of the picture, Emily grew a closer bond with her brother Branwell Brontë, played by Fionn Whitehead. An important relationship to be noted, the impact of her brother shapes the dynamic of the film. The contagiously free-spirited nature of Branwell was the catalyst that led Emily to see life in a new way.  It was almost as if Emily had a seed that contained the urge to rebel and her brother was the soil and water and he nurtured and grew a curious side. The relationship between the siblings through both hardship and happiness was an interesting character arc and was one of the most compelling parts of the film. Women at the time were suppressed, however spending company with her brother allowed her to taste the sense of freedom men had at ease. The fragility of their mental health was also poignant as they plunged through highs and lows and faced addiction to alcohol and opioids. Often mental health is erased when watching period dramas and the film didn’t shy away from depicting the realities.

Another key relationship that is examined in the biopic is between Emily and Weightman. New to her parish Oxford graduate Weightman is curate to the vicar and they begin to build a relationship as he becomes appointed as her French teacher. Initially butting heads, their hate transcends into lust and then love as they have a secret affair. Period dramas revel in storylines surrounding forbidden love and the romanticisation of these encounters. TV shows such as Bridgerton have brought this to the masses as people are lost in passionate encounters. Whilst romanticising the sex scenes the director also showed a more realistic and somewhat awkward reality of 1800s coitus. Draped in layers of material, the camera focuses on Emily’s dress as he unravels through each layer, highlighting the expectation of modesty of women at that time. The relationship between Emily and Weightman was enthralling as they were on a seesaw of emotion and it was rarely balanced.

Director Frances O’Connor did an excellent job in tackling the imagined life of the widely renowned author Emily Brontë. Exploring the fabrics of Emily’s upbringing, we were able to see her relationships develop and how it impacted on her internal psyche. It also shined a light into the male figures in her life, through her father, brother and lover. At times having tumorous relationships with them, her authoritative personality traits mirrored the men in her life as didn’t seek approval from them. The pacing of the music and also the lack of music at certain points really accelerated the tension and the score was key to the film. Overall, the film was fascinating and it captured the brazen and individualist stride of Emily, which led her to have the creative vision to write ‘Wuthering Heights’.

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