starring: emily mackey, oliver jackson-cohen, fionn whitehead, and adrian dunbar
REVIEWER: lyall carter
Emily imagines the transformative, exhilarating, and uplifting journey to womanhood of a rebel and a misfit, one of the world's most famous, enigmatic, and provocative writers who died too soon at the age of 30.
Emily tells the imagined life of one of the world’s most famous authors, Emily Brontë. The film stars Emma Mackey (Sex Education, Death on the Nile) as Emily, a rebel and misfit, as she finds her voice and writes the literary classic ‘Wuthering Heights’. EMILY explores the relationships that inspired her – her raw, passionate sisterhood with Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling – The Musketeers) and Anne (Amelia Gething – The Spanish Princess); her first aching, forbidden love for Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen – The Lost Daughter, The Haunting of Bly Manor) and her care for her maverick brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead – The Duke, Dunkirk), whom she idolises.
While I’ve heard of Emily Brontë and her sisters I didn’t know that much about her life. I’m also aware that Emily pushes and blurs the lines of historical accuracy in regards to her life, but the narrative crafted here, with its fictional flourishes, adds a tremendous depth of understanding to the person and the writer.
Director Frances O'Connor, a veteran actress of period dramas Mansfield Park and Madame Bovary, manages to avoid the pitfalls of a stuffy period drama, devoid of humanity. There’s a modern twist to proceedings here, giving voice to Emily’s emotional and mental health struggles, that seeks to and achieves a compassionate humanization of a literary figure in which there is very little historical detailing for.
O’Connor also uses Brontë’s literary classic Wuthering Heights as a frame of reference for exploring Brontë’s relationship with William Weightman, a curate at her father’s church. She uses the variety of the vast landscapes and the intimacy of the Brontë home and its history to create a Gothic feel to proceedings. It’s a masterstroke, delving into the glorious heights of romance but the depths of its rivalry and obsession.
Emily Mackey continues her run of impressive performances in her most central role to date. She manages to capture in a simple glance romantic longing, simmering with all the turmoil that plagues her heart and mind.
A period drama with a modern twist, Emily is a compassionate humanization of a literary icon, using fictional flourishes to explore her life and work.