Emily (2022)

Director: Frances O’Connor
Writer: Frances O’Connor
Based on: (loosely) Emily Brontë’s life
Cast: Emma Mackey, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Fionn Whitehead, Alexandra Dowling, Amelia Gething, Adrian Dunbar, Gemma Jones
Seen on: 19.12.2022

Emily Brontë (Emma Mackey) is withdrawn and said to be odd. She lives with her father (Adrian Dunbar), her brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead) and two of her sisters, Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling) and Anne (Amelia Gething) and dreams of her life being bigger. When a new curate, William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), arrives in their town, he sparks the interest of most unmarried women, and Emily’s disdain. But the tension in their relationship soon turns to something more.

Emily intriguingly mixes fact with fiction, imagining Emily Brontë having her own Wuthering Heights-like romance. If that kind of romance is your thing, you’ll probably like this film much more than I did. I found it a bit boring, to be honest, and focusing on the least interesting things.

The film poster showing Emily (Emma Mackey) standing in a puddle. A white mask floats in the puddle.

I hated Wuthering Heights. The kind of destructive obsession between two people, usually only moderately likable, does nothing for me, and I don’t understand how people see it as somehow romantic. So I was less than thrilled when this film turned out to be Wuthering Heights transported to Brontë’s life, with a few more tropey flourishes. Even if the story had spoken more to me, I don’t know whether it doesn’t somewhat diminish Brontë’s imagination to suppose that she had to live through a romance like that to be able to write Wuthering Heights.

And it’s not like there wouldn’t have been an interesting story without this eyeroll-inducing fatal romance. Emily’s relationship with her sisters Charlotte and Anne would have been worth exploring, but Charlotte is only ever seen as an antagonist and rival, and Anne is generally forgotten (in fact, my biggest take-away was that I should finally read Agnes Grey. I have the sneaking suspicion that out of the three major novels by the sisters, it could be the one I like best. I mean, at least I didn’t hate Jane Eyre). Emily’s relationship with Branwell gets more attention but was also a little frustrating.

Emily (Emma Mackey) on a walk, looking a bit disheveled.

Emma Mackey gave a strong performance that actually gives the film something to hold on to, even when the script doesn’t offer her all that much to do. And O’Connor certainly has flair as a director, especially considering it’s a debut. They strike cinematic gold in the scene where the Brontës and William play with that mask. This is a thoroughly creepy moment that hits just the right Gothic notes.

But the film doesn’t really stay with it, and wastes most of its time on the cursed romance. And that just bored me way too much. With another narrative angle, this could have been something. As is, I couldn’t get into it.

William (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and Emily (Emma Mackey) sitting in the grass together.

Summarizing: not for me.

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