Film Review: Emily (2022)

Frances O’Connor reimagines Emily Brontë with mixed results in Emily

“I have often struggled to understand you Emily Jane”

Actor-turned-writer/director Frances O’Connor has been gettng quite a bit of love from British film award nominations for her work on Emily. And in some ways, you can see why. An invigorating take on the period drama, it has none of the starched bonnets and stately dances that so often denote this genre, instead it has a gritty urgency and a rare attempt at psychological insight into characters of this time.

And what characters to choose. The Brontë family are so notable and yet so unknown, little of their biography really being examined aside from their literary accomplishments. O’Connor makes the choice to ally Emily’s personal story with that which she invented for Wuthering Heights, as pain and passion play out on the Yorkshire Moors, the village’s new curate William Weightman the prototype for Heathcliff.

It’s a refreshingly bold take, amped up by excellent cinematography from Nanu Segal whose handheld work really does transport us into the intimacy of this world, a portrait of a deeply troubled young woman. Her emotional turbulence might be explained in modern parlance as mental health issues but there’s something so shocking and striking in the scene in which a masked-up parlour game takes the eeriest of turns.

Ultimately, there is something a little limiting about O’Connor’s framing that arguably denies Brontë’s inventiveness as a fiction writer. But Emma Mackey does breathe some intermittently interesting life into her, Oliver Jackson-Cohen simmers nicely as the handsome interloper and there’s lovely supporting work from Adrian Dunbar and Gemma Jones as family members unsure of their unpredictable loved one.

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