‘Emily’ turns the Brontë Sisters’ story into paralyzing boredom

Emma Mackey in ‘Emily’. Blecker Street

The movies just can’t get it right about the Brontë sisters. The family story of a stern, disciplinarian, widowed Anglican vicar with a feral, uncontrollable son and a trio of downtrodden daughters who lived in a parsonage and eventually shocked the world by writing impassioned potboilers that became historic literary classics is clear fodder for Victorian soap operas. opera. What a pity, then, that the feverish hysteria of their melodramatic story has created such paralyzing boredom on screen.

EMILY ★★ (2/4 stars)
Directed by: Frances O’Connor
Written by: Frances O’Connor
Starring: Emma Mackey, Fionn Whitehead, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Alexandra Dowling, Amelia Gething, Adrian Dunbar, Gemma Jones
Duration: 130 minutes.

emily, a colossal boredom revolving around Emily Brontë in the days before she wrote Wuthering Heights, is the latest mind-bogglingly overrated attempt at making the Brontë saga a blockbuster. Despite its visual appeal, its concentrated star performance by Emma Mackey and the devoted obsession of Australian actress Frances O’Connor making her debut as a writer-director, almost everything goes wrong and it looks more like fiction than a credible biopic. .

Emily, the second youngest of the Brontë siblings, was three years old when her mother died, then unhappily desperate for the love of her father, a stern and humorless clergyman eternally shaken by the overactive imagination and contempt for acceptable social behavior. that ultimately made her a writer of elegant pulp fiction. Emily’s ally was her brother Branwell, the alcoholic black sheep of the family, who introduced her to cognac, opium and sex in a series of fanciful, self-indulgent escapades not exhausted in Mrs. O’Connor’s long and tedious screenplay. plausible. I liked Emily better in the 1946 Warner Brothers epic dedication, when she was played by Ida Lupino. That was a black and white Hollywood concoction that was equally full of fictional euphoria, but at least it was interesting. The Brontë sisters lived life vividly as they were played by Lupino, Olivia de Havilland and Nancy Coleman, and Arthur Kennedy gave a memorable performance as Branwell, the harried alcoholic who wasted his life as a painter.

In this new version, played by Fionn Whitehead, he is a writer with no talent, not an artist, who competes with his sisters by writing garbled prose instead of keeping them on canvas. As he romps through the moors of Yorkshire with Emily as they are arrested for spying on their neighbors at night through closed windows like budding peepers, he looks more like one of those precocious high school pranksters who claims the dog is his done homework. Instead of the bitch Olivia de Havilland played in dedication, Alexandra Dowling’s Charlotte Brontë is now the sweetest and sweetest of the three sisters, so ill-defined you’d never suspect she’d ever write Jane Eyre, while Anne Brontë (Amelia Gething) is reduced to the status of a walk-on.

Other historical blunders pop up everywhere. (Jane Eyre was previously published Wuthering Heights, not after, and under the pseudonym of a man, not the name of Emily Brontë.) The film doesn’t bother to speculate on the inner forces that inspired Emily to write anything at all, focusing instead on coming up with a naive romance with her French teacher (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) while he was employed as her father’s chaplain – a character that never existed. None of this has anything to do with the creative dynamics of writing, and nothing about the way Emma Mackey plays her illuminates the heady nature of Emily’s scandalous life that paved the way on her journey to become a literary legend. lease refrain from visiting cinemas emily, especially if you snore.

Observer Reviews are regular reviews of new and notable movies.

'Emily' review: Emily Brontë's story creates crippling screen boredom

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