It looks good, has some very effective locations and the Yorkshire moors look dour and storm ridden enough to have produced Bronte’s charismatic and violent hero Heathcliff. But Emily herself, as played by Emma Mackey, doesn’t come over as someone who could create a milk and water fairy tale let alone a hero of tortured emotions. Rather than the wild and passionate creature we expect from her writing, she comes over a lot of the time as a sulky teenager having a bit of a paddy.
The film begins as what looks a bit like a Yorkshire version of Little Women as Emily and her sisters Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling) and Anne (Amelia Gething) exchange girlish confidences and dreams. But O’Connor soon despatches them all off to teacher training college or equivalent, where Emily disgraces herself and so is brought back to the solo spotlight at home to live with her father (Adrian Dunbar) and her brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead), with whom she gets up to a bit of drink and drugs mischief, along with falling for dad’s handsome new curate Weightmann (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).
The main problem with Mackey’s performance is that there is little or no trace of the fire and fervour that the real Emily shows in her writing nor indeed is she here seen to be doing much writing at all. There’s more passion in Jackson-Cohen’s performance as the conflicted curate, even though again he’s no Heathcliff model. Far too middle class and conventional. From the story as presented, one can see no real reason why their love is “forbidden” and why this respectable and perfectly eligible young man couldn’t have just courted and married Emily, rather than getting his clerical collar in such a twist.
There would then of course have been no Wuthering Heights – just a series of babies. Perhaps though Emily might have avoided the mental health problems, which are indicated here but not very convincingly. Her relationship with Weightmann does though provide one perhaps unintentional piece of comedy in what is otherwise a rather dour piece of storytelling, when showing us how tricky it was to have a bunk up in the barn when hampered by Victorian corsetry.
The most interesting performance comes from Whitehead as bad boy Branwell. He too is relatable to as a modern teenager on the booze and the drugs but Whitehead gives him considerable charisma and an engaging sense of cheeky wickedness. Charlotte and Anne don’t get much of a look in in this Bronte tale, though Dowling does have some good moments towards the end. And Gemma Jones lends sterling support as the aunt who keeps the domestic ship afloat.
I suspect this is a bit of a passion project for O’Connor but unfortunately she hasn’t found the passion in what should have been a moving and enlightening story about a woman, who is a literary heroine to so many.
“Emily” DVD contains the following special feature:
· Deleted Scenes
DVD Street Date: 12th December 2022
DVD Languages: English
DVD Subtitles: English
Running Time: 125 minutes
Rating: Rated 15 for infrequent strong sex, drug misuse