Rating: 15 Cast: Emma Mackey, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Adrian Dunbar and Fionn Whitehead. Directed by Frances O’Connor. Written by Frances O’Connor. Length: 130mins.
Emily is a loosely biographical drama about the Wuthering Heights author Emily Bronte which covers the years leading up to Brontë writing her novel, which is about cruel and haunted characters who play devastating games with love and social status.
Frqancis O’Connor has made a really impressive debut as a writer and director with this glimpse of Emily Brontë, intelligently played by rising star Emma Mackey. It’s beautifully acted, creatively shot, and nicely imagined. There were a few unusal moments with the editing, making scene changes a bit clunky and, at moments, questioning if there were technical glitches; but it just seemed to be harsh cuts that were used two or three times throughout. Emily manages to capture the Victorian era with a slight contemporary feel. Not modern in that post-Bridgerton sense, instead, the movie feels modern in the way it imagines Brontë’s reclusive nature and emotional swings with consideration towards trauma, depression and other possible mental health issues that we have the language for and understanding of today. The characters in the film can’t diagnose these things, but a contemporary audience will spot the signs that O’Connor subtly layers into the role, allowing it’s audience to be aware, but not let the issues detract from the progression of the story.
Mackey’s portrayal, excellent as it is, may be smoother around the edges and less windblown than the real thing but that’s not really a surprise, her skill seems to be so layered and each role, including this gritty, emotional period character, shows audiences her depth as a performer and I can’t wait to continue to watch her career grow. Adrian Dunbar, unsurprisingly, presents a solid character in Patrick Bronte, leaving his audiences searching for the moments of warmth and approval that the leading character spends so much of the film seeking as well. His performance allows the audience to empathise even more with the lead, which is a very generous trait for an supporting actor and also suggests deliberate and strong direction.
While technically I think this was a good film with strong performances, and a really strong debut for O’Connor it did lack something. It’s visually quite dark, which although sounds like a small thing, it makes it a little more difficult to engage and stay focussed throughout. Some of this of course will be due to the time period and the miserable weather but it still has an impact on the audience. Personally I found it quite tricky to really invest in what was in front of us, Mackey’s Bronte isn’t particularly likeable and neither is Weightman – actually, none of the characters are very likeable with possibly the exception of Branwell, but even then it’s not an overwhelming likeability. For me to truly enjoy a film I need to back characters to some degree and if you aren’t drawn to anything about anyone it makes the viewing experience a tricky one. My rating is purely for that reason, it’s a good film – just not for me.