By Jorja Connolly
“I’m tired of being enclosed here. I’m wearying to escape into that glorious world, and to be always there: not seeing it dimly through tears, and yearning for it through the walls of an aching heart: but really with it, and in it.”
– Catherine Earnshaw Linton in Wuthering Heights chapter 15
Frances O’Connor makes her directorial debut with this stunning and poignant biopic about famous author Emily Brontë. Emma Mackey plays the titular role, who you’ve probably seen before in Netflix’s wildly popular show ‘Sex Education’, where she plays sarcastic social outcast Maeve Wiley. I was excited to see her take on this role as I loved her as Maeve, the emotional depth and complexity she gave the role made me love the character and she brings the same depth to this role. On the surface Maeve and Emily are similar, seen as strange and quiet by the people around them, but are extremely intelligent and both have troubled relationships with their family. But Mackey still manages to set the two women apart with an utterly brilliant performance. For the duration of the movie, I didn’t see Maeve or Emma, I just saw Emily. Her performance was so engrossing and moving I almost forgot I was watching actors instead of real people going about their lives, trying to find happiness in their stifling world. Emma Mackey provides an intensely layered performance, which I sincerely hope she is given credit for next award season.
There’s no higher praise I can give than to say that this movie feels alive. Everything from the acting to the sound and lighting design to each word spoken felt so utterly human. It blew me away!
The film was shot in Yorkshire, where the Emily and her siblings grew up. The way O’Connor captured the scenery almost made it feel like a character itself. Her use of natural lighting particularly exemplified this, with the soft morning light illuminating Emily as she writes to the warm afternoon glow creating a sense of hope as Emily waits for her lover to arrive.
I remember thinking in one scene ‘how have they managed to make a grey sky look so beautiful’ and to this day I can’t quite put my finger on it. One factor I believe to have played a key role is the powerful use of sound. Just like the lighting, O’Connor uses natural sounds and amplifies them to add to the scene. Rustling of trees, blustering wind and gentle tapping of rain against windows are all used to enrich and enhance the scenes they are placed in. The use of thunder and rain are especially used for dramatic effect, often subtly incorporated into the background of scenes to signal a build-up of emotion and tension, adding much more pressure to the situations and creating an almost thriller-like atmosphere to some scenes.
What really made this film for me was the development of character relationships. Not only did the central romance feel authentic and fully realised, but Emily’s connection with her three siblings were also incredibly layered and ever-changing. From the loving yet slightly antagonistic relationship with her sister Charlotte, to the freeing and ultimately tragic time she spent with her brother Branwell. Through these ties with her family and beyond, Emily evolves into the brilliant writer we know her as today.
Overall, it’s fair to say I really loved that movie. Everything from the acting to the lighting and sound design ensnared me. There were heart breaking moments throughout, but I ultimately think that this movie had a somewhat happy ending. I couldn’t help but compare this film to Netflix’s ‘Blonde’, a biopic that chronicled the life (or more specifically sex life) of Marilyn Monroe that came out in late September 2022. I got roughly halfway through Blonde before I turned it off in disgust. The treatment of Marilyn by the filmmakers was so incredibly disrespectful and cruel I refused to finish it. It seemed as if the director of the film actually hated Monroe and used the film to express that hatred. The reason I brought up Blonde is to show the huge contrast in how these historical female figures are portrayed. While Marylin’s memory is heinously exploited and disrespected, O’Connor treats Emily with the respect she deserves, allowing her agency in her own story; the result is extraordinary.