Emily is an insightful extrapolation of the life of an Emily Brontë, and it's likely to be a significant entry in the careers of both its director and its star.

Film Review: Emily

Film Reviews

Director: Frances O’Connor

Embankment Films and Ingenious Media
In Theaters: 02.24

The artist biopic is all the rage these days, with films about the lives of Elvis Presley and Whitney Houston making a big splash in 2022. While author Emily Brontë may not be quite as glamorous or recent a public figure, her significance in the history of literature is hard to understate. Emily, the new film based upon her life story, reaches great heights.

Emily is a speculative account of the author’s life,  and the formative events that led to the creation of Wuthering Heights. The youngest of six siblings, the untimely death of Emily’s mother has a profound effect on Emily (Emma Mackey, Sex Education) and gives her a certain fascination with the macabre. She struggles to find her footing in her sometimes rocky relationship with her sister, Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling, The Musketeers, Game of Thrones), who is both her best friend and fiercest rival. 

Emily’s rebellious nature is encouraged by her roguish brother, Branwell (Fionn Whitehead, Dunkirk), and it catches the attention of the new curate, William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Mr. Malcolm’s List, Surface). At first, Weightman disapproves of Emily’s pranks and spirited behavior, and she seems to be the only young woman in the parish who is not infatuated with him. When Emily’s father engages Weightman to tutor her in French, they find themselves drawn to each other. Before long, they are exploring the French tongue together in every possible sense. Love never goes as planned in a Brontëstory, and this experience proves to be pivotal in shaping Emily’s magnum opus.

Emily is a well acted and often captivating film, though at least a passing familiarity with Brontë’smasterpiece makes a difference in appreciating Writer/Director Frances O’Connor’s vision. The accomplished actress, best known for Mansfield Park and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, makes an impressive auteur debut. Wheremany might have made the mistake of overplaying the gothic atmosphere of the story, O’Connor strikes a balance and portrays Emily’s formative experiences without going to the hammy extremes. O’Connor doesn’t underestimate what an interesting person Brontëmust have been but avoids making her life as colorfully melodramatic as the fiction she wrote. 

Mackey is wonderful in the title role, infusing Emily with a sense of mirth, playfulness and stubborn defiance that makes us love her and ache with her during her most difficult times. Whitehead’s boyish charms are perfectly suited to the character of Branwell, and O’Connor nicely captures the closeness between the brother and sister that is thought to have influenced the dynamic between the younger Cathy and Heathcliff. Dowling’s Charlotte is the most interesting character, and her interplay with Mackey is involving, frustrating.

Emily is largely a film for fans of literature and costume drama, but it’s successful enough on that level to constitute one of the strongest mainstream releases of the year up to this point. Emily is  an intelligent, insightful extrapolation of the life of an extraordinary artist, and it’s likely to be a significant chapter in the careers of both its director and its star. –Patrick Gibbs 

Read more review of historical dramas:
Film Review: Emancipation
Film Review: Ammonite