Emily – Film Review

As a cinema lover, I have always loved that moment when you discover something bright and new in the cinematic universe.

I still remember the times that I sat down and watched a Danny Boyle, a Kevin Smith or even a Quentin Tarantino film for the first time. Those moments started love affairs for me with directors, love affairs that continue today to the point where my heart skips a beat when I hear that they have made a new film.

I wasn’t expecting to have that kind of feeling when I went to see the new biographical film, Emily. I knew I wanted to see the film as Emily Bronte’s work was always one of my guilty pleasures at university, but I had no idea that the film would reveal a new directing talent from Frances O’Connor, starring actress Emma Mackey.

See, I have become pretty jaded when it comes to biopics. A few have been released recently about people that I have admired, and I have been shocked to find that the film version of their lives often leaves out the darker parts or the parts that may embarrass family members that are still alive. To me, if you don’t want to tell somebody’s whole life story then don’t attempt to tell any of it at all. The fact that O’Connor chooses to tell a whole ‘warts and all’ story of Emily Bronte not only explains why Bronte’s works of literature were the way they were but feels like it does justice to one of the literature world’s most important families.

The film explores Emily Bronte’s life through her eyes as she answers her sister Charlotte’s (Alexandra Dowling) question, “What made you write Wuthering Heights?”.

As she answers, she recounts how she viewed the world, her two very different relationships with her sisters Charlotte and Anne (Amelia Gething), why she couldn’t handle going away to school, her almost twisted relationship with her drug addicted brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead) and her ill-fated romantic relationship with local religious minister William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).

What I loved most about this film was the way that Frances O’Connor captured her subject, i.e., Emily, so well on screen. The story of Emily Bronte is a tragic and bleak one. History even suggests that she was being poisoned her whole life due to the fact that the family’s well was located so close to a graveyard, and O’Connor captures that in a way that very view filmmakers could.

Every single scene of this film feels dark and gothic and through the work of O’Connor and her cinematographer, Nanu Segal, the audience are dragged into that world and are taken through a range of emotions and experiences consisting of heartbreak, torment, eroticism, and absolute despair. Emily Bronte’s life was not a happy one and O’Connor captures this perfectly without ever trying to make it a nice experience for the audience. This may turn some people off the people, but for me, it is what makes the film so powerful. Frances O’Connor is a director that I want to see more work from.

What also added to the film was the acting performance of Emma Mackey. So natural is her performance, that it feels like she almost evoked the spirit of Emily Bronte in a bid to bring her character to the screen. Her scenes with Fionn Whiteheard and Oliver Jackson-Cohen are the more memorable scenes of the film but Mackey comes into her own when she has to play the defeated and tormented Emily. It almost feels like a crime to me that she hasn’t been considered for some kind of the major acting award.

Likewise, I found it remarkable that Frances O’Connor’s name hasn’t been mentioned when it comes to some of the Best Director awards. Throughout Emily, she shows what a talented director she is. The fact that this is her debut feature is absolutely astonishing because the film has the feel of a seasoned director, such as Jane Campion, all over it. If this is what O’Connor’s films look and feel like at the start of her directional career, then I can’t wait to see how good they are in years to come.

I can’t use any other word than ‘masterpiece’ to sum up Emily. Its dark gothic feel enhances the emotions of the film while Frances O’Connor reveals herself to be one of the most exciting directors that have come onto the scene in a long time. Add to that the amazing acting performance of Emma Mackey in the lead role, and it is not hard to see why we may have already seen one of my favourite films of 2023.

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