Emily is a haunting, intimate reimagining of Emily Brontё’s life and work

Historical accuracy? Overrated. 
Screenshot 2023 02 11 At 14302 Pm

Emily. // Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Emily, Frances O’Connor’s debut as a director and screenwriter, is the product of 10 years of writing and rewriting. It’s a love letter to the Wuthering Heights author and poet, but it’s also a coming-of-age story, a journey through grief, a collection of steamy sex scenes and longing glances, and a historical drama with elements of horror. It’s a revelation that moves away from the tired storytelling of contemporary biopics to a more imaginative, whimsical place out on the English moors. 

Emily is set in the formative years of Brontё’s early 20s before she writes her greatest masterpiece. 

Sex Education’s Emma Mackey stars in the titular role. Brontё initially spends her time daydreaming and getting into trouble with her siblings Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling), Branwell (Fionn Whitehead), and Anne (Amelia Gething). As she struggles to find her way in a world dominated by men and suffers from intense introversion, she strikes up a passionate relationship with curate William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Storm clouds figuratively (and often literally—this is a historical drama) gather overhead, unleashing a downpour that flash-floods Brontё’s life, as well as the lives of those around her. 

To complicate matters, Brontё has a playful, turbulent, borderline incestuous relationship with Branwell. It cleverly parallels that of Wuthering Heights protagonists Catherine and Heathcliff, leading to some of the most heart-wrenching scenes of the entire film. They share their writing, opium, and several strangely-charged scenes that will make you recall ghosts banging on windows in the pouring rain. 

Mackey’s performance is characterized by warring desires for love, companionship, solitude, and singularity. 

One standout scene that highlights Mackey’s talents and the genre-blending nature of the film is when Brontё dons her dead mother’s mask during a party game. It’s chilling to watch Brontё struggle with her sanity at this moment and to watch her loved ones respond to her “possession.” Composer Abel Korzeniowski does his share to set the tone with a tremulous accompaniment of strings and mournful piano. 

Little is known about Brontё’s life, and O’Connor embraces that by interpreting the hell out of the information we do have. The result is a breathless, joyful glimpse into Brontё’s life, which is too often characterized (as is the case with so many female authors) as miserable and externally stagnant. 

Emily’s U.S. release date is Feb. 17, in theaters only.

Categories: Movies