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Emily (15)

Cast: Emma Mackey, Adrian Dunbar, Fionn Whitehead, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Amelia Gething, Alexandra Dowling
Genre: Drama
Author(s): Frances O'Connor
Director: Frances O'Connor
Release Date: 14/10/2022
Running Time: 130mins
Country: UK/US
Year: 2022

Emily yearns to win the respect of her father, Irish Anglican priest Patrick Bronte, but his praise is reserved for her sister Charlotte and brother Branwell. She is assigned French lessons with the new parish curate, William Weightman, and an initially combative relationship kindles forbidden desire that tests his faith and resolve to breaking point. Emily unstoppers her emotions and they cascade over ink-filled parchment to become the manuscript for Wuthering Heights.


LondonNet Film Review

Emily (15) Film Review from LondonNet

In front of the camera, actress Frances O’Connor has endured her fair share of period drama and comedy pains as Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Gwendolen Fairfax in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest and the spirited title character of a two-part TV adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. For her impressive feature film directorial debut, O’Connor romanticises and humanises one of 19th-century English literature’s brightest lights, Emily Bronte, who only published one novel, Wuthering Heights, a year before her death from tuberculosis aged 30…

Emily abandons the rigid constraints of a traditional biopic to corrupt timelines and invent a scandalous dalliance between the writer and a curate as the template for the turbulent romance between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. Reactions of characters to Emily’s work mirror polarised opinions of the era: younger sibling Anne acknowledges a masterpiece but older sister Charlotte dismisses the writing as “ugly” and the guilt-ridden clergyman laments: “There is something ungodly in your writing.”

There is something delicate and beautiful in O’Connor’s screenwriting, which deftly navigates painful dynamics within the Bronte family through the eyes of a socially awkward loner, who is cruelly nicknamed The Strange One by residents of Haworth. Her defiant, outsider status threatens to bring shame on the household, creating friction between Emily and her kin. “I won’t let you drag me down!” spits Charlotte during one heated exchange. In response, Emily embraces the motto etched on her brother Branwell’s arm – Freedom in thought – and gradually accepts her individuality as a badge of honour to be embroidered on her bosom.

Emily (Emma Mackey) yearns to win the respect of her father, Irish Anglican priest Patrick Bronte (Adrian Dunbar), but his praise is reserved for her sister Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling) and brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead). She is assigned French lessons with the new parish curate, William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and an initially combative relationship kindles forbidden desire that tests his faith and resolve to breaking point. Youngest child Anne (Amelia Gething) witnesses deep fissures between family members as Emily inherits Bramwell’s casual relationship with opium and unstoppers her emotions so they cascade over ink-filled parchment.

Anchored by a terrific central performance from Mackey, who captures the writer’s manifold contradictions, Emily is an unconventional character study that employs handheld camerawork to catalyse a feeling of intimacy with the Brontes. Cinematographer Nanu Segal rejects a chocolate box colour palette for earthy browns and greens to capture the rugged beauty of rain-lashed 1840s West Yorkshire. “I’ve always been beyond your comprehension and I always will be,” coos the conflicted protagonist. O’Connor’s picture understands Emily Jane Bronte very well.

– Jo Planter


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