‘Emily’ Movie Review: Emma Mackey Bewitches in Frances O’Connor’s Hauntingly Memorable Adaptation

Frances O'Connor's Emily movie poster
©Bleecker Street

Frances O’Connor’s Emily movie is a haunting, loosely adapted chronicle that’ll fascinate anyone, especially devotees of period dramas. And here’s a rather unpopular opinion, coming from someone who was an English Literature major in both grad school and undergrad, but I’m not the biggest fan of the Brontë sisters. If I’m going gothic, sign me up for Austen’s Northanger AbbeyStill, I respect Wuthering Heights, and ultimately, I could’ve appreciated it more if I had been able to care about Heathcliff more. That’s neither here nor there because Emily movie made me care in a way most documentaries I’ve watched haven’t done so. It’s also a testament to ensuring that the writer’s legacy remains at the heart of the film through every beat, allowing viewers to understand the workings of her mind in a more familiar manner.

And so much has to do with the bewitching life Sex Education’s Emma Mackey breathes into the titular character. We could spend far too much time solely exploring Mackey’s performances because, ultimately, as sharp and as exquisite as the screenplay is, it’s how Mackey understands the historical figure that makes the story riveting. While the film isn’t too close to the historical truth, it’s a beautiful story about complexities, misunderstandings, and the trials of falling in and out of love, followed by the places that creative people venture to. It’s also a testament to the figurative imprisonments women faced before we were deemed more than potential brides. 

Emma Mackey and Oliver Jackson-Cohen in Frances O'Connor's Emily movie
©Bleecker Street | screenshot via Official Trailer

Further, Emily movie finds much of its footing through the brilliant chemistry within its cast, even when stones are cast and animosity lingers heavily in the air. Historical accuracy doesn’t matter a single bit to me personally when two people have the kind of astounding chemistry that Mackey and Oliver Jackson-Cohen as William Weightman do. The film’s exploration of their romance and the sort of rivals to forbidden lovers works gorgeously to give us glimpses into Emily’s head, making the writing process of Wuthering Heights that much more enticing now. It might not be their story, but it’s one worth investing in, losing ourselves in the chaos that unravels, breaking through rugged edges, and allowing the characters to drive the story forward through their intimacies.

The film isn’t a love story in the traditional sense, but it’s a love story that matters because it uses the sensibilities to reiterate how a person creatively goes from point A to B. Where does the writing process begin, how do they find themselves at the core of it all, and who’s the chaos ultimately for? Emily Brontë didn’t get to see what a sensation Wuthering Heights became or how many people find comfort in it today. I might not be one of them, but I certainly understand and see why it deserves the reception it still has. And so much of that is brought to life in the film as a transcendent exploration of raw, human experiences. 

Bronte sisters in Emily movie
©Bleecker Street | screenshot via Official Trailer

The appetites for escape that we see between Emily and her brother, Branwell (Fionn Whitehead), are entirely justifiable. The moors come to life through Frances O’Connor’s visionary exploration of the darkness that grows from within and how the need for a getaway outside of one’s own head becomes a crux at a time when we aren’t having avid discussions about mental health. There’s also much that can be said about how Emily movie brings Charlotte Brontë to life through Alexandra Dowling’s performance and the moments we get between the sisters throughout. It is, after all, a story that starts and ends with them.

While the film might not be perfect, it’s difficult to come out of it not appreciating the Brontë sisters a little more. Emily, especially as the film shows the trajectory of her life through complexities that are easy to understand more in this day and age. It’s a thoughtful movie crowded with quiet confessions in a room full of people, the perils of intimacy, the heartbreaks that stay and linger, and the many difficulties women face, especially when misunderstood. O’Connor understands the genre brilliantly, and it shows through every frame in Emily movie. Plus, coupled with Abel Korzeniowski’s astounding original score, there’s something deeply transportive about the story unfolding in front of us on screen and on the page for the character. 

Freedom in thought—that’s what the writer’s arc is about, and that’s where the narrative takes us evocatively. Whether historically accurate or not, this is how biopics should be—effective and transcendent in every way.

Emily movie is now streaming in select theaters.


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