Dir.: Frances O’Connor; Cast: Emma Mackey, Alexandra Dowling, Amelia Gething, Fionn Whitehead, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Adrian Dunbar; UK/US 2022, 130 min.
This big screen imagining of Emily Bronte’s life is a wild affair and will offend scholars but delight cinema audiences. Emma Mackey is dynamite as the 18th century poet and novelist who dares to have sex with a curate and revolts against patriarchy and her two sisters, who are only too happy to conform.
Emily is a rebel with a cause: the early death of her mother has seen two of her Brontë sisters Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling), Anne (Gething) cow-towing to their stern, rather blustery father Patrick (Dunbar), who hammers home the word of God from the pulpit. His son Branwell (Whitehead) will become a role model for Emily: she copies his tattoos proclaiming freedom of mind and turns a blind eye to his opium habit. Until she meets curate William Weightman (Jackson-Cohen) who is handsome beyond belief but in awe of his boss Patrick. All her sisters swoon over him, but only Emily takes action: their affair is passionate and graphic, with Emily sublimating real life into her famous novel ‘Wuthering Heights’. Alas, William has second thoughts. Neither God nor Patrick, his stand-in on Earth, will permit the joys of physical love. But on the evening of Emily’s departure with Charlotte to Brussels, the curate changes his mind again and gives a letter to Branwell, begging Emily to stay put. The remainder of the drama plays out in this mood of utter devastation of mind and body, before the final triumph of ‘Wuthering Heights’.
The plot turns on the letter episode: O’Connor does not go with the quiet, introverted passive suffering of three women – she hurtles headlong into Thomas Hardy territory and ‘Jude the Obscure’. But although Branwell is a less evil creature than Hardy’s Arabella, he still plays God to the detriment of the lovers.
DoP Nanu Segal makes nature as foreboding as the lovers’ souls with the English countryside brooding in the murkiest of hues with the camera exploring the ghostly atmosphere of the moors in gloomy tracking shots. Haworth, the village, where Emily is seen as an outsider, is shown as a bastion of local traders and shopkeepers.
Abel Korzenioski’s gothic score is overbearing at times but the self-defeating story perseveres with its passionate tale of woe. The only fault in this gut-wrenching tale about a woman colliding with a world run by men is the self-indulgent running time that takes away the sting of the bitter male/female confrontations. Although O’Connor plays fast and lose with a few literary facts this no place for anaemic scholarly retrospection – EMILY is a drama seen through the prism of female emancipation; a vivid re-imagining of what could have been. AS
ON RELEASE FROM OCTOBER 14 2022