10 Oct 22
Emma Mackey, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Fionn Whitehead, Adrian Dunbar, Gemma Jones, Alexandra Dowling, Amelia Gething
Whether it's Laurence Olivier smouldering to Oscar-worthy effect at Merle Oberon in 1939 or Tom Hardy wrestling with his Byronic wig as Heathcliff in the popular 2009 TV version, there's certainly no shortage of screen adaptations when it comes to literary classic Wuthering Heights.
Indeed, the first was made in England way back in 1920 and we've had around 25 others and counting since, including Yoshishige Yoshida's drama that transplanted the 18th century action from the Yorkshire moors to medieval Japan, not to mention that Kate Bush music video.
Yet what of its young author, Emily Brontë? Who was this apparently virginal, 20-something recluse who penned such an alarmingly sinister romance about a wild orphan called Heathcliff, who develops an obsessive relationship with his foster sister, Cathy?
"How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery," wrote a critic in Graham's Magazine, upon the novel's publication in 1847.
That mystery is what fascinated Frances O'Connor, debut writer/director of new biopic, Emily, and Brontë super-fan. "Emily Brontë is fierce, rebellious, sensitive, creative and magical," O'Connor has declared. "I think she's the most neglected sister.
There's a core group of hardcore fans who just love Emily because she's a bit of a rebel and a misfit. She'd probably be a goth or something these days."
It's true, curiously little is known about Emily Brontë's short life. She was born in 1818 and lived with her family at Haworth, in Yorkshire. Her mother died in 1821, followed by her two eldest children.
The surviving siblings, Emily, Charlotte, Anne and their only brother, Branwell, all became published writers. Wuthering Heights was to be Emily's only novel, as she died of tuberculosis aged only 30.
Her legacy was closely controlled by her older sister, Charlotte (author of Jane Eyre) who wrote her biography.
With scant hard evidence to go on, O'Connor could let her imagination rip. Emily the movie is a potent blend of historical fact and fantasy.
A portrait of the artist as a young woman, it casts a remarkably striking Emma Mackey (Sex Education, Death On The Nile) as Emily, a timid yet fiercely intelligent country mouse, who only comes alive when making up stories with her sisters.
Then forbidden love enters Emily's small, self-protected world. O'Connor conjures up an imagined affair with real-life curate William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who finds himself bewitched by this unique, ferociously passionate creature.
The film also explores the increasingly close bond Emily had with her charismatic, alcoholic brother, Branwell (Fionn Whitehead).
An actor herself (Mansfield Park, TV's The Missing) Frances O'Connor inspires and allows space for committed and complex work from her cast. The sweeping Yorkshire landscape becomes a lead character in its own right – lensed with tactile beauty by cinematographer Nanu Segal. It's a heady, thrillingly alive movie to experience.
Born as the MeToo movement gained momentum, Emily celebrates one female artist shining a spotlight on another.
Above all, it's about a woman finding her authentic voice in the world – a powerful connection that reaches across the centuries. Larushka Ivan-Zadeh
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