Wednesday, October 05, 2022

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With a little over a week for the premiere of Emily in the UK, the press is starting to focus on it. From Harper's Bazaar (a feature that is reposted by many other news outlets):
"Emily Brontë is such a strange person," says Emma Mackey. "But I'm protective of her – she is a gift of a woman to play."
The actress is talking about her titular character in Emily, a fictionalised biopic that arrives in cinemas this month. It is, of course, not the first time that the Brontë sisters have inspired actors, authors and directors: there are umpteen dramas, biographies and novelisations devoted to the trio, who grew up with an alcoholic brother, widowed-priest father and aunt in a draughty West Yorkshire parsonage. [...]
While the youngest sister, Anne, has a loyal following, fans’ focus tends to be on the eldest, Charlotte, who wrote Jane Eyre, and Emily, the author of Wuthering Heights and a subject of fascination for the actress Frances O’Connor, who makes her directorial debut with this compelling new film. Thanks to a dearth of historic records, Emily’s life has long troubled biographers, prompting O’Connor to write and direct a reimagining of the ‘misfit’ middle sister in her twenties. We see Emily flounder and fail at becoming a teacher, both locally and in Brussels, return home, write her astonishing, controversial novel about love, betrayal and revenge, and become the first sister [sic] to die from tuberculosis.
Told by a dynamic cast that combines a cohort of rising stars with industry stalwarts, including a bespectacled Adrian Dunbar as the siblings’ father Patrick Brontë and a bonneted Gemma Jones as their Aunt Branwell, this is a tale of suppression, sisterhood and the search for intellectual and emotional freedom. Much of the intrigue comes from how the introverted Emily variously connects with and disconnects from society and other people: her difficult relationship with Charlotte is accentuated, as is her discovery of forbidden love with her father’s enigmatic new assistant curate William Weightman. Running throughout the drama, rivetingly delivered by Mackey, is its heroine's own abstruse, funny, mercurial brilliance. [...]
O’Connor says she cast Mackey because she has "something animal" about her that contrasts powerfully with the atmosphere of conservative restraint around her. "Emily is sometimes very still, but often wrestling with the elements, the landscape, and she feels and responds to things viscerally," Mackey says. "I don't think you have to intellectualise her feelings or reactions – she is always instinctive."
Her Emily is multifaceted: a loner, a dreamer, a dissident, a cauldron of imagination, and also just a daughter who misses her dead mother. "She is constantly trying to ask the others, 'Do you want to talk about Mum? Because I do,'" Mackey says, referring to an extraordinary set piece involving a possible ‘visit’ from Mrs Brontë’s spirit that could have been silly, but is both gripping and moving to watch. "The Victorians were hardly known for liberally sharing emotion, so that scene is about how far she’s willing to go to get her silent family to wake up and meet her in the middle somewhere," the actress explains. The hardship is punctuated by some delightful moments of levity and unexpected humour, provided by the deft dialogue and Mackey’s rock-steady stare and recurring raised eyebrow. "I have a very expressive face. I try to control it," she deadpans.
The actress found depicting her subject both a pleasure and a psychologically gruelling challenge. "Clearly, Emily Brontë and I are very different people, but what we do have in common is being a bit singular, wanting to tell stories and to be in control of them," Mackey says. Will young women in 2022 relate to this Emily – an independent spirit, finding her identity and place in a man’s world? "I don’t want her to be seen as the kooky rebel, who goes off on this adventure of self-discovery to smoke pot, have sex and find herself. I don’t think she would have thought, 'Oh, I’m being so feminist right now,'" she says. "It’s more complicated and also more pure than that. She exists in her own right."
The project was filmed entirely in Yorkshire, making this a full-circle moment for Mackey, who studied English at Leeds University. "I grew up in France but was raised on period dramas, so it was always my dream to run around the moors in a crinoline," she says with a smile. "I chose this film because it felt fresh, with a punchy script."
That script comes courtesy of O’Connor, who has spent 10 years working on the project and is herself one of four siblings. "Wuthering Heights has been my favourite book since I was a teenager, and there’s something in Emily that I really identified with – as an introvert with a large imaginative life, too," says the actress-turned-director. "I always knew I wanted to write a story about this young woman working herself out, because I love celebrating imperfections."
To offset the dour weather, 19th-century repression and tragic plot twists, O’Connor knew her protagonists needed to have a certain warmth. "If you’re asking the audience to go somewhere a bit dark, you have to give them characters they love, so they’re willing to go on that journey," she says. (Read more(Charlotte Brook)
The Irish Times spoke to director Frances O'Connor.
“I’ve always just found her a fascinating character,” says writer-director Frances O’Connor. “She was 30 when she died. She was an intensely private person. She was antisocial. She literally couldn’t leave the parsonage without getting sick. And yet she wrote this gargantuan piece of literature full of passion and fierce intelligence. I’ve always just wondered who she was. She’s a blank space, really. I think she was also fairly anonymous until her last year when Wuthering Heights was published.” [...]
“I think she did suffer from social anxiety,” says O’Connor. “At the beginning of the film, there’s a scene in which she hides in her bedroom for three days because there’s a houseguest. That really happened. And people around her would complain and say: this is nuts. In her bedroom for three days when they had guests. I mean, I’m an introvert, I completely understand. But she did get so sick that when they sent her away to school, Charlotte had to bring her home. And Charlotte wrote home at the time, saying: I’ve got to bring her home or she’s going to die.” 
O’Connor’s film is framed by an important question, which an exasperated Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling) puts to her ailing sister, Emily (the wonderful Emma Mackey): “How did you come to write Wuthering Heights?”
It’s an intriguing mystery. Most historians believe that Emily never formed any romantic attachments. Younger sister Anne Brontë was the love of Emily’s life. One family friend characterised them: “like twins — inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption”.
Remembrance, one of Emily’s best known love poems, was not inspired by a suitor, but by the deaths of older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth.
O’Connor, in common with such recent scholars as Stevie Davis, suggests that surviving sister Charlotte may have been extremely selective in her presentation of Emily.
“I think when those novels hit the public, there was a concern,” says the filmmaker. “Wuthering Heights was just seen as a very inappropriate novel. People were horrified by it. And that’s when they thought it was written by a man. I think Charlotte edited her sister fairly heavily just because she was afraid of how they were going to be judged.”
Thus, O’Connor’s Emily introduces William Weightman (played by Invisible Man’s Oliver Jackson-Cohen), the young assistant curate who likely inspired Weston in Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey.
“He was a real curate that lived with the Brontës, and as soon as he turned up everyone fell in love with him,” says the director. “He was a bit of a flirt, and they named him ‘Celia Amelia’ because he was like a girl in a ribbon shop.”
Emily escalates this schoolgirl crush into a passionate affair, during which Weightman is both entranced and repelled by Emily’s literary output. The film also imagines brother Branwell (Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead) as a freethinking, heavily-drinking dilettante who is indulged by his father (the great Adrian Dunbar) and who unwittingly gets his sister Emily hooked on opium. This subplot may, O’Connor concedes ruffle some Brontë fans’ feathers.
“Without a doubt, there’ll be some people who are really pissed off,” smiles O’Connor. “And good. That’s something. That’s a conversation. I think a lot of people love this book.
And also, then in turn, there’s a lot of people who love Emily. They have a personal relationship with Wuthering Heights and with her and it’s going to be different than mine. They’ll probably get upset about it but that’s fine. That’s what literature and stories should be about. I mean, people were very upset about Wuthering Heights when it came out. But Emily was true to herself. Emily was true herself in how she wrote it. And I take that as my inspiration.” [...]
And also, then in turn, there’s a lot of people who love Emily. They have a personal relationship with Wuthering Heights and with her and it’s going to be different than mine. They’ll probably get upset about it but that’s fine. That’s what literature and stories should be about. I mean, people were very upset about Wuthering Heights when it came out. But Emily was true to herself. Emily was true herself in how she wrote it. And I take that as my inspiration.” (Tara Brady)
The Telegraph and Argus looks forward to a boost in local tourism thanks to the film.
Bradford City of Film director David Wilson said: "The Bradford Film Office provided advice and support for the film when they filmed in Haworth. It was around the same time as The Railway Children Return was also filming in the area in May 2021, so took some co-ordination. Businesses and residents on Haworth Main Street were very supportive, especially as both stories had such local significance.
"As with all stories relating to the lives and works of the Brontës, this film will undoubtedly attract international attention and will be another driver for screen tourism across the Bradford district and the wider region."
Emily will have a special preview screening at Skipton's Plaza Cinema on Friday. And a dress worn by Emma Mackey in the film will go on display at Skipton Town Hall in an exhibition called Every Leaf Speaks Bliss to Me (October 8 to December 23) looking at creativity inspired by local landscapes. Made by Oscar-winning costume designer Michael O’Connor, and seen in the trailer, the dress will be displayed alongside film stills. (Emma Clayton)
Emily is also one of Télérama's 'coups de coeur' after the Dinard British Film Festival.

Writer Elizabeth Brooks has selected '10 Great Novels with Unreliable Narrators' for CrimeReads and one of them is
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847). At first glance, Jane looks like the opposite of an unreliable narrator. Even among the ranks of virtuous Victorian heroines, she is notable for her honesty and moral courage, and the novel gives no sense at all that Charlotte Brontë wants her readers to doubt her heroine’s account (no slippery post-modern shenanigans here, thank you very much). However, I think this makes Jane the perfect illustration of the thesis that there can be no such thing as a reliable first-person narrator. Unlike the omniscient third-person narrator, who is able to dictate the terms of his or her fictional universe to the nth degree, the first-person perspective is necessarily limited, as in real life. Other characters’ secret thoughts, feelings and motivations remain mysterious. It may be true that Aunt Reed is a shallow, cruel and unimaginative ogress, and nothing more … but what would Aunt Reed’s take be, if she were pushed to give her own account? What about Grace Poole, or Blanche Ingram, or little Adèle? Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (‘mad’ Bertha Rochester’s famous riposte) is proof of just how much scope the unreliable narrator—even one as high-minded as Jane Eyre—leaves open for new perspectives, which may both challenge and enrich the original narrative.
While Book Riot recommends '8 Exhilarating Novels About Real People' including
The Vanished Bride (Brontë Sisters Mystery #1) by Bella Ellis
What if the Brontë sisters were detectives before they became writers? That is the premise from which Bella Ellis begins this delightful novel. When a young woman vanishes from her home, leaving behind her two children and a pool of blood, young Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë decide to conduct an investigation into the mystery. (Carolina Ciucci)
Here's how a contributor to The Telegraph describes a group of four women volunteers going to the Antarctic to 'count penguins and sort mail at the world’s most remote post office, Port Lockroy on Goudier Island'.
She’s billed it as a “solo honeymoon”, which sounds self-empowering until you ponder the fact she’s actually “quattro”, there are no flush lavatories or running water, it’s freezing cold, she’ll sleep in a bunk bed and run a gift shop for South Pole tourists. Then it sounds like Jane Eyre’s schooldays, only 1,000 times more brutal. (Rowan Pelling)
Closer to the Brontës' home, Nouse recommends 'Exploring the North Yorkshire Coast'.
For 19th century literature lovers, a more macabre pastime is searching for Anne Bronte’s grave at St Mary’s Graveyard, which sits dramatically overlooking the South Bay and is below Scarborough Castle (a National Trust property). The Agnes Gray author died in Scarborough in1849 from advanced tuberculosis, shortly after the death of her sister Emily Bronte. According to Scarborough Archaeological Society, she requested that in death to not be transported back to Haworth, as Scarborough was a place close to her heart and that the journey would be more emotionally taxing on her surviving family. It’s a place with a beautiful view of the seaside destination but can also be a quiet place of reflection, as it is a lot less busy than the sea front. (Megan Stoker and Florence Head)
iNews echoes the recommendation:
I find the grave of Anne Brontë – who visited Scarborough in 1849 hoping to recover from tuberculosis– in a cliff-top graveyard looking out to sea. The new gravestone, replaced by the Brontë Society in 2011, corrects the age of the lesser-known Brontë sister at her death: just 29 years old. Visitors have left stones around the grave painted with the words, “Take courage.” (David Atkinson)
Los Angeles Times features Nobel laureate Órhan Pamuk.
In 2012, Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s only Nobel laureate in literature, opened his Museum of Innocence in a 19th century wooden house in Istanbul. A real museum of imaginary lives, it contains 1,000 objects linked to the fictional characters in Pamuk’s 2008 novel of the same name. To understand how audacious this was, imagine buying a cavernous English manor, filling it with period artifacts and exhibiting it as Thornfield Hall, home of Edward Rochester and Jane Eyre. (Steven G. Kellman)

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