Emily – Film Review
by Frank L.
Director – Frances O’Connor
Writer – Frances O’Connor
Stars – Emma Mackey, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Adrian Dunbar
Emily Bronte died at the age of 30 in 1848. She was the daughter of an Anglican cleric and had four sisters and one brother. Her great novel Wuthering Heights was published in 1847, a year before her death. What inspired Bronte to write such a powerful novel given the society in which she grew up is not easy to explain. It is that conundrum that O’Connor seeks to elucidate. There is not a great deal known about her life and some of that is filtered through her elder sister Charlotte, the author of Jane Eyre, who outlived her by seven years. O’Connor seeks to make explicable what may have inspired Emily to create the characters of Heathcliff and Cathy Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights. What she creates in the film is an enthralling story which keeps the viewer riveted. She permits herself to expand substantially on the known facts as she delves into the life of Emily.
The action is primarily centred on Haworth Rectory where Emily’s father was the permanent curate. Haworth is a remote village on the edge of the windswept Yorkshire moors. The vagaries of the weather are an important ingredient of everyday life and the drenching rain is commented upon when a new temporary curate, the Reverend William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), arrives. This curate did not exist in real life and is an invention of O’Connor. She describes the everyday life of the rectory consisting as it did primarily of Emily, her father Patrick (Adrian Dunbar), sister Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling), sister Anne (Amelia Gething) and brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead). Her close relationship with Branwell makes Emily aware of the licentiousness of life which encompassed alcohol and the elixir of opium. Her relationship with Weightman makes her aware and knowledgeable about the opposite sex. These activities are furtive. Not so an investigation into mysticism with a surreal sequence with a mask which belonged to her deceased mother and was a treasured possession of the Reverend Bronte.
The interior of the rectory has the expected comforts and accompanying privations of that of a cleric of a comparatively lowly station in Victorian times. The costumes by Michael O’Connor are in muted tones and reflect the earnestness of the sisters but are suggestive of flair. They are beautiful. The music is by Abel Korzeniowski which at times seems overpowering but which seeks to highlight the various conflicting emotions which surround Emily. The expansive scenes of the moors make sense of Emily’s yearning for emotional freedom.
At all times, O’Connor tells a story that engages. It is wisest to meet the film on her terms and not overly fret between that which is factual and that which is not. Accept the film as the story of Emily Bronte as interpreted by Frances O’Connor. Enjoy the scenery, the cinematography and the performances and let the mysterious quality of Emily encompass you. It is a rewarding experience.