Emily (2022)

Quick synopsis: A biographical film about Emily Brontë, and the writing of her most famous work, a shopping list. No, wait, Wuthering Heights.

It’s weird, this film is supposed to be about the writing of Wuthering Heights, but it doesn’t feature Kate Bush at all. Plus it’s set in the 1840s instead of the 1970s. Such a basic lack of fact-checking. Oh, it turns out Wuthering Heights is not just a banger of a tune, it’s also a book (Books: they’re like television shows for your eyes), huh, the things you learn.

I’m not that familiar with Wuthering Heights, or the work of any of the Brontë sisters truth be told. I worried this would hinder my enjoyment of it. There was a high chance that I just wouldn’t vibe with this film, not just because I don’t know much about the sisters, but also because I tend to not like period films that much. And for a lot of this film’s opening, I was uninterested in this film. It felt like the characters were taking some things far too seriously and ignoring obvious truths which would reduce their anxiety. My fears were justified, I was bored, and I had started to tune out.

Now I’m about to say something I wish wasn’t true. The Brontë sisters are important in a literary sense, and are among the most famous female writers of all time, coming from a time when women were legally second-class citizens. So any story about them has to be feminist AF for it to work, which makes the following sentence make me feel shitty for saying: the film gets a lot better once her brother enters the spotlight more. There’s a turning point where he and Emily are talking and it tells you so much about who Emily is. It’s the first time you see the dynamism and excitement that she has. It’s the first time that she feels like an actual human instead of a character. The two actors have undeniable chemistry and I hope they work together in the future.

I have no idea how historically accurate this is, so I can’t judge it based on that. I can only judge on what I see, and what I see is slightly frustrating at times. As I said, the opening doesn’t do a great job of drawing you in, and the main romance that’s central to the plot feels lacking. Hard to explain why, they have good chemistry, and the way it ends is heartbreaking, it just doesn’t feel quite as real as it should. I think it’s because the meet-cute moment doesn’t land. As I said, the way it ends is brilliant, but the way it starts feels a bit rushed and forced. The performances are great though, the only time I’ve seen Emma Mackey in something was Death On The Nile, where I described her as “distractingly like Lucy Hale, but better”. None of that here, she is completely different and knocks every moment out of the park. Fionn Whitehead has a good energy to him, although I did spend a lot of the film wondering where I knew him from, I thought I was just getting him confused with Matthew Baynton, but now I know he was in possibly the best episode of Inside No. 9. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the two of them do next.

This is the first film directed by Frances O’Connor, best known for her performances in Mansfield Park, Importance Of Being Earnest, and Madame Bovary. I would not have guessed this is her first film as a director. It’s very ambitious, she doesn’t approach it as a standard period film, she uses handheld shots, dynamic camera movement during chases, and very dark colours to give it a slightly modern feel. It doesn’t always work, the scene where characters are getting drunk feels very poorly edited. I get what she was going for, but it didn’t really work. There are some moments when the visual language is unclear and it can be frustrating and difficult to watch. But when it’s good, it’s very good. Although I do have the feeling her future is not in period dramas, but in horror. There are a few scenes in here which are directed as if they’re in horror movies, and I’d love to see her do one. Not a modern slasher, but a retro-style ghost story.

It’s strange, I’m not sure I learnt any facts about Emily, but it did give me great insight into who she was. I’m not sure I could pass a multiple-choice exam on her, but this did give me an understanding of her character to the point where I could probably BS my way through an essay on her. Worth a watch, but not essential.


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