Director: Frances O’Connor
Writer: Frances O’Connor
Starring: Emma Mackey, Fionn Whitehead, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Alexandra Dowling, Amelia Gething, Adrian Dunbar, Gemma Jones
Emily is the directorial debut from Frances O’Connor, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s a largely fictional biopic of Emily Brontë, the writer of Wuthering Heights. The film follows her life during the years leading up the publication of the iconic book, showing what may have inspired her to write it. The film is more of an imagined romance story than a biopic.
Emily is played by Emma Mackey, who’s simply brilliant in the film. She is presented as the black sheep of the family; someone that others thinks of as ‘the strange one’. She doesn’t fit in, much preferring to spend time alone in her room than with others and doesn’t want to let go of the games she played and stories she wrote as a child.
Once she really gets to know the new curate, William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), the story comes to life as they start to fall in love with each other. Their romance takes a good amount of the runtime of the biopic, and there’s a lot of chemistry between them. It’s a forbidden love, that can never become public. Other than their relationship, there’s also a lot of time spent showing Emily’s relationship with her siblings, especially Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling) who she has a turbulent relationship with, and more importantly her brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead). All of the performances are really great.
Like the book Wuthering Heights, there’s a lot of the gothic on show in Emily. There’s a great scene early on when Emily puts on a mask and pretends to become her dead mother, which is both chilling and more unsettling than a lot of horror films. The score, by Abel Korzeniowski, is also a little unnerving at points. Emily’s life is filled with a lot of tragedy and it’s reflected with the beautiful direction from Frances O’Connor which brings to life the Yorkshire setting.
If you’re going into this film thinking you’re going to get an insight into the life of the writer of Wuthering Heights, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. It’s not really about that book, although it does set forth to answer the question why Emily write it. None of the history around the book, such as how it was released under a man’s name (the pen name Ellis Bell was used as women writers weren’t taken seriously) or how Charlotte edited the book shortly after Emily’s death, are mentioned. Emily doesn’t even start writing the book until very close to the end, and it’s more of a footnote in the film to the romance between Emily and William, which there’s no evidence actually happened.
While Emily plays fast and loose with Emily Brontë’s life, it’s still a very well told story with a great blend of gothic elements. It’s not for historical purists, but it’s an interesting interpretation of her life.
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