Emily – movie review

Emily is a fictitionalised story about lauded 19th century writer and poet Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights). Australian actor-turned-writer/director Frances O’Connor has woven a compelling tale.

As a youngster, Emily (Emma Mackey) enjoyed making up stories. Considered odd and deviating from the norm, her mind worked differently to others. While comfortable in the company of family, she struggled in outside settings. Her father Patrick (Adrian Dunbar) – the local priest – was a disciplinarian, who expected much of his offspring, although that wasn’t always delivered. The arrival of a young vicar in the parish, William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), saw tensions rise, with Emily drawn to him (he gave her French lessons) and he to her. She was also being led astray by her layabout brother, Branwell (Fionn Whitehead).

All the while, the one constant was Emily’s fertile imagination and poetic bent, recognised by those who chanced on her prose. So Emily is the story of a loner with smarts and a great turn of phrase who was misunderstood.

I was drawn in and held tight throughout the film’s 130 minutes. Emma Mackey impresses in the lead. There’s an intensity about her.  She plays Emily as reflective, passionate and not afraid to speak her mind. Oliver Jackson-Cohen plays William Weightman as God-fearing and lustful. Fionn Whitehead readily slips into the persona of Emily’s beloved, but wayward brother Branwell. He’s a character prone to weakness and excess. Alexandra Dowling channels a goody-two-shoes as sister Charlotte. Adrian Dunbar bears a stiff upper lip as their preacher father Patrick.

I appreciated the period detail and wild outdoor settings captured by cinematographer Nanu Segal. Composer Abel Korzeniowski’s score serves to heighten the moments of tension and desire.

Emily shows life is hardly easy for Emily Brontë, a woman who didn’t conveniently fit society’s norms. It’s well worth seeing.

Alex First

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