TIFF 2022 | Emily (Frances O’Connor, UK) — Platform

By Will Sloan 

“In the village, they all call you the strange one,” says the future author of Jane Eyre to the future author of Wuthering Heights in this speculative biopic of Emily Brontë. More reclusive and less well-documented than her elder sister, Emily Brontë’s inner life has invited universes of speculation since her passing at age 30. Here, veteran actor and first-time writer-director Frances O’Connor offers a decidedly contemporary perspective, depicting a free-thinking woman who chafed against the constraints of her buttoned-up family and the pious, patriarchal society that surrounded them. This Emily Brontë (played with full movie-star swagger by Emma Mackey) even gets an arm tattoo that reads “Freedom of Thought,” apparently to one-up a clergyman in an argument about blind faith.

Emily plays freely with the historical record, but for all its gesturing towards iconoclasm, it still locates the source of Wuthering Heights’ passionate charge in some familiar places: a clandestine love affair with a hunky local rector named William Weighton (a real historical figure, although his role here is Shakespeare in Love [1998]-type fantasy), and the borderline-flirtatious chemistry she shares with her alcoholic brother Branwell. On its own dubious terms, this is moderately engrossing, and benefits from O’Connor’s confident evocation of the grey and candlelit atmospherics of Yorkshire in the 19th century.