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.
As a cinema lover I have always loved that moment when you discover something bright and new in the cinematic universe. I still remember the times that I sat down and watched a Danny Boyle or a Kevin Smith or even a Quentin Tarantino film for the first time. Those moments started love affairs for me with directors – love affairs that continue today to the point where my heart skips a beat when I hear that they have made a new film.
I wasn’t expecting to have that kind of feeling when I went to see new biographical film Emily. I knew I wanted to see the film as the Bronte’s work was always one of my guilty pleasures at university but I had no idea that the film would reveal a new directing talent in the form of Australian actress Frances O’Connor.
See I have been pretty jaded when it comes to biopics recently. A few have been released recently about people that I have admired and I have been shocked to find that the film version of their lives often leaves out the darker parts or the parts that may embarrass family members that are still alive. To me if you don’t want to tell somebody’s whole life story then don’t attempt to tell any of it at all. The fact that O’Connor chooses to tell a whole warts and all story of Emily Bronte not only explains why Emily’s works of literature were the way they were but feels like it does justice to one of the literature world’s most important families.
The film explores Emily Bronte’s (Emma Mackey – Death On The Nile) life through her eyes as she answers her sister Charlotte’s (Alexandra Dowling – Game Of Thrones) question of “What made you write Wuthering Heights?
As she answers the question, she recounts how she viewed the world, her two very different relationships with her sisters Charlotte and Anne (Amelia Gething – The Spanish Princess), why she couldn’t handle going away to school, her almost twisted relationship with her drug addicted brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead – Dunkirk) and her ill-fated romantic relationship with local religious minister William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen – The Invisible Man).
I think what I loved most about this film was the way that Frances O’Connor captured her subject, ie Emily, so well on screen. The story of Emily Bronte is a tragic and bleak one – history even suggests that she was being poisoned her whole life due to the fact that the family’s well was located so close to a graveyard – and O’Conner captures that in a way that very view filmmakers could.
Every single scene of this film feels dark and Gothic and through the work of O’Conner and her cinematographer, Nanu Segal (All Good Children), the audience are dragged into that world and taken through a range of emotions and experiences from that of heartbreak, torment, eroticism and absolute despair. Emily Bronte’s life was not a happy one and O’Conner captures that without ever trying to make it a nice experience for the audience at all. That may turn some people off the people but for me it is what makes the film so powerful and O’Conner a director that I want to see more work from.
I found the other thing that added to the atmosphere of Emily was the acting performance of Emma Mackey. So natural is her performance her it feels like she almost evoked the spirit of Emily Bronte in a bid to bring her character to the screen. Her scenes with Fionn Whiteheard and Oliver Jackson-Cohen are so the more memorable scenes of the film but Mackey comes into her own when she has to play the defeated and tormented Emily – it almost feels like a crime to me that she hasn’t been considered for some of the major acting awards this awards season.
Likewise I found it remarkable that Frances O’Conner’s name hasn’t been mentioned when it comes to some of the Best Director awards. Throughout Emily she shows what a talented director she is. The fact that this is her debut feature is absolutely astonishing because the film has the feel of a seasoned director, such as Jane Campion, all over it. If this is what O’Conner’s films look and feel like at the start of her directional career then I can’t wait to see how good they become over the years.
I can’t use any other word than masterpiece to sum up Emily. It’s dark Gothic feel enhances the emotions of the film while Frances O’Conner reveals herself to be one of the most exciting directors that have come onto the scene in a long time. Add to that the amazing acting performance of Emma Mackey in the lead role and it is not hard to see why we may have already seen one of my favourite films of 2023.