1676652066 Emily Review Emma Mackey masters a revisionist version of Emily

Emily Review: Emma Mackey masters a revisionist version of Emily Brontë

Emma Mackey in Bronte

Emma Mackey in Brontë Photo: Bleeker Street

We don’t know exactly where Emily Brontë found inspiration for her characters in Wuthering Heights, but the film Emily envisions the author herself as the starting point for Cathy, the seminal novel’s heroine. Actress Frances O’Connor hasn’t exactly made a biopic in her feature film and directorial debut, but rather a film not dissimilar to an adaptation of a young adult novel. O’Connor’s revisionist film is a sophisticated drama filled with passion and tragedy.

Wuthering Heights was written by Brontë when she was between the ages of 25 and 28 and was published just a year before her untimely death at the age of 30. Her only novel, it feels like the imaginary passions of a young girl awaiting romantic love and fulfillment in a society where romance and fulfillment are not allowed in young women. O’Connor takes these ready-made and recognizable narrative tropes and makes them the subject of her original screenplay, which takes in the few known facts about the shy and elusive Brontë sister—and everything else.

The members of the Brontë family we meet in Emily behave as they have in previous films about the well-known family, including the excellent 1946 Devotion starring Ida Lupino as Emily. In this film, the sisters compete for the affections of dashing Reverend Arthur Nicholls, played by Casablanca’s Paul Henreid. In O’Connor’s film, the sisters fixate on the Reverend William Weightman, played with understated charm by the handsome Oliver Jackson-Cohen (2020’s The Invisible Man). But there’s never really any competition for the Reverend in Emily, as he’s smitten with the odd dark-haired girl, played by Emma Mackey with an impressive range of twitches and phobias.


2h 10m


Emily Review Emma Mackey masters a revisionist version of Emily


Oliver Jackson-Cohen

William Weightman

Fion Weisskopf

Branwell Bronte

Alexandra Dowling

Charlotte Bronte

Amelia Gething

Anne Bronte

Adrian Dunbar

Patrick Bronte


Frances O’Connor


Emily envisions the transformative, exciting and uplifting journey of a rebel and misfit, one of the world’s most famous, enigmatic and provocative writers, who died far too young at the age of 30.

Here, as in the story, Emily’s sister Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling) is a teacher on the verge of publishing Jane Eyre while working to secure Emily a similar position, although she doesn’t want to. There’s a deep and enduring love between Charlotte and Emily, but there’s also judgment and bitterness, and Dowling musteres that range with ease. Her Charlotte wants Emily to go beyond the game and childish behavior and become more like her for Emily’s sake. Charlotte, the eldest of the surviving children, best remembers the loss of the two older Brontë sisters (Maria and Elizabeth) and their mother, also named Maria. She knows best how fleeting life is and how to be self sufficient, which is also a YA trope. Anne (Amelia Gething, making the best of a role she’s taken on), the youngest of the talented and doomed Brontë sisters, tries to mediate, but only occasionally succeeds.

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O’Connor’s Emily overcomes her quirks, fulfills her desires and fulfills her passions – and then some. In O’Connor’s film, Emily’s needs look and feel similar to Cathy’s desires and passions in Wuthering Heights. In fact, O’Connor’s film looks and sounds like some of the book’s more notable adaptations. Nanu Segal’s landscape photography of distant, lush hills and fog settling over the moors is reminiscent of director William Wyler’s 1939 shot
Wuthering Heights featuring the work of legendary Citizen Kane cinematographer Gregg Toland. But when passions heat up, Emily looks and feels more like Andrea Arnold’s 2001 adaptation of Wuthering Heights. This film features folky ballads on score, while the music for Emily by Abel Korzeniowski is stirring, deeply moving and fully orchestral.

EMILY | Official Trailer | Bleeker Street

Emma Mackey and Oliver Jackson-Cohen have great chemistry, as does Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier in the Wyler film. The characters in O’Connor’s Emily are not Heathcliff and Cathy, although Jackson-Cohen is a good replacement for Heathcliff versus Mackey’s good replacement for Cathy. In Jackson-Cohen’s Riff on Heathcliff, the character is perhaps less of an ass. Heathcliff is unbearable in the book and in all the films – another notable distraction. And Mackey’s Emily is a young woman bravely living the life she writes about, perhaps because she knows time is of the essence.

(Emily hits theaters on February 17.)