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This warts-and-all dramatisation of the lives of the famous writing sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë features vomiting blood, an assault against an old man, swearing and a sense of general grimness that wouldn’t feel out of place in writer/director Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley (an impression that may be helped by the fact that several of that programme’s actors, including Charlie Murphy and James Norton, pop up in roles of various sizes).The Atlantic reviews it too:
Set around a short period in the sisters’ lives that included their brother Branwell’s (Adam Nagaitis) decline and the publication of their novels, To Walk Invisible is a long-gestating passion project for Wainwright, and that definitely shows onscreen.
As usual, the depth and honesty of the relationships between her female characters is impressively authentic, but it’s bolstered by Wainwright’s evident love and knowledge of Brontë lore from the make-believe games they played as children (inventing sagas set in fictional countries called Gondal and Angria) to the specific dimensions of the Haworth Parsonage where they wrote their great works (the entire set, including outdoor areas was built from scratch on location in Yorkshire).
The drama is also peppered with brilliant performances, from Jonathan Pryce’s genial yet haunted patriarch Patrick Brontë and Nagaitis’ charismatically pathetic Branwell to all three sisters. Chloe Pirrie in particular delivers a stormy take on Wuthering Heights author Emily Brontë, a Catherine Cawood of the 19th century who slaps down her siblings, spends her time striding over the bleak moors and reacts with glee to real-life tales of passion and revenge (a highlight sees her breathily recounting the tale of a Heathcliff-like villain to her unimpressed sister Anne, who was far less enamoured of her two sisters’ style of Byronic hero in her own works).
However, Wainwright’s passion for the subject matter is also the drama’s weakness. At two hours the story feels indulgently long, and seems to assume a certain level of Brontë knowledge from its audience lest they be left behind (a lot of references to the young Brontë's juvenilia fall into this category).
Dramatically, by contrast, certain scenes feel the need to hold the audience by the hand, with characters delivering emotionally expositional dialogue about their struggles as women in a man’s world that feel a little on-the-nose for writers who wrote with such subtlety. [...]
The end result is a well-acted and unusually historically accurate drama that just feels a little overwhelmed by the responsibility of doing the Brontës and their legacy justice, culminating in a slightly bizarre segue to the present day Haworth Parsonage which serves as little more than a plug for the gift shop. It has some excellent qualities, but overall To Walk Invisible is not quite the full Brontë. (Huw Fullerton)
The drama’s undeniable strength is its three female leads: Pirrie, Atkins, and Charlie Murphy as Anne Brontë, who find great depth in their three different characters, and their complex bonds. Pirrie’s Emily is ferocious and mercurial, running the household with a matter-of-fact steeliness that belies moments of profound compassion for her siblings. “When a man writes something, it’s what he’s written that’s judged,” she says acidly, while the three sisters are considering their pen names. “When a woman writes something, it’s her that’s judged.” Murphy’s Anne is a peacemaker and Emily’s confidante, who nevertheless breaks with her sister when their integrity is questioned. Atkins’s Charlotte is quiet and reserved, but also the most ambitious of the three. When her publisher doubts that she’s really the Currer Bell who wrote Jane Eyre, she fires back, “What makes you doubt it Mr. Smith? My accent? My gender? My size?”Screener TV claims that 'The Brontë sisters are the feminist heroes we need right now on PBS'.
Wainwright draws compelling drama out of the sisters finding their literary talents, like superheroes discovering their powers for the first time. When Charlotte rifles through Emily’s possessions to find her hidden poems, the music swells and her face alters perceivably as she reads them, overcome with emotion. There’s comedy, too, when Charlotte confesses to her father that she’s written a book, and he assumes it’s another homemade manuscript in her “tiny little writing,” rather than the colossal success Jane Eyre had become—a book so powerful critics were calling its author “complicit in revolutions across Europe.”
That the sisters are so intriguing is what makes To Walk Invisible’s heavy focus on Branwell so frustrating. Clearly, Wainwright wanted to draw parallels between the era of the Brontës and modern-day Yorkshire, still rife with drug and alcohol abuse that devastates communities. Nagaitis allows Branwell flashes of sympathy, but he is, from a beginning, a lost cause, enabled by his father as he terrorizes his household. His violent and self-pitying decline spurs his sisters’ desire for self-determination, but it also distracts from their more remarkable story. There are fleeting hints of the thwarted romance for Charlotte that inspired Mr. Rochester, and of the village gossip that sparked Wuthering Heights, but Branwell ultimately receives more attention than any of the sisters individually, even as his path is, tragically, the most predictable.
But To Walk Invisible succeeds by humanizing the Brontës to an unprecedented extent, hinting at how their isolated and turbulent home life might have nurtured a capacity for creativity and imagination that resounded in all three women. Shot against the wild backdrop of the Yorkshire moors, it’s a strikingly different kind of costume drama. In the drama’s strange conclusion, Wainwright jumps forward in time to the modern-day Brontë Parsonage Museum, a clumsy but well-intentioned reminder of how powerful these sisters’ legacy would become. (Sophie Gilbert)
Emily Brontë understood this well. The theme of revenge whips around Wuthering Heights like the wind off the moors.La Provincia (Spain) alerts to the fact that Jane Eyre 1944 is being screened later today at Las Palmas de G. C., 6:30 pm. Cicca. Alameda de Colón, 1.
When the low-born Heathcliff is brought into his family, privileged young Hindley grows ‘bitter with brooding’ and swears to ‘reduce him’. The sentiments are ugly, and the outcome can not be a pretty one.
The hatred between them ends up consuming them all.