Emily review: A decidedly un-mainstream adaptation

This is not the authored, family-funded account of Emily Bronte’s life, but the unauthorised warts n’ all one.

With acclaimed Australian actress Frances O’Conner (‘The Missing’) making her directorial debut, ‘Emily’ (2022) feels less like a biopic than a brooding Bronte adaptation.

Very gothic-looking in the best kind of way, it boasts an outstanding performance from Emma Mackey as versatile as Emma Stone as Cruella and as extreme acting as Lily James as Pamela Anderson.

The first thing to say is that Emma Mackey really can act. That’s despite atrocious turns in Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Death on the Nile’ (2022) and the Parisian stinker ‘Eiffel’ saying otherwise. Her performance as Emily Bronte is very reptilian with reptilian, lizard-like eyes.

She’s beautiful in the manner of an English rose like Lily James, but also a black-haired beauty in the vein of a dark Emma Stone performance. Despite this being an Emily and not Charlotte Bronte movie, I often felt Mackey was channelling the creepiest elements of Ruth Wilson in Susanna White’s 2006 BBC adaptation of ‘Jane Eyre’ (2006) which remains the best Bronte performance and best Bronte adaptation to date.

 Other influences appear to be Abigail Hardingham’s creepy performance as imposting abduction victim Alice Webster in Season 2 of ‘The Missing’. Harry and Jack Williams’ BBC masterpiece has a lot of connections with this Bronte biopic not least because Frances O’Conner starred as Oliver Hughes’ mother also named Emily in Season 1.

Yet it’s the outstanding, Nordic Noir redolent second season set in Eckhausen, Germany that casts its chilliest spell over the proceedings here and indeed Emma Mackey’s Oscar-worthy performance. One of the greatest clips of Mackey’s acting titantary is her biting of the top lip. But it’s not annoying in the way it is for Kristen Stewart.

The film itself is very Bergman-esque. I found the relationship between Emily and her two sisters redolent of Bergman’s 1972 three sisters masterwork ‘Cries and Whispers’ (1972). It certainly has some of the crazed psychology and hysteria of Bergman. I also felt a strong influence of Tim Burton who was, in turn, always influenced by Bergman.

Strong shades too of Lennie Abrahamson’s greatly underrated movie ‘The Little Stranger’ (2018) which, again, felt very Bergman. Director O’Conner can’t seem to resist the gothic pull of the Swedish Seventh Seal auteur at any opportunity.

There are flaws along the way. Not least the romance which makes it seem more conventional. The sex scenes are a distraction and I needed less. Ffion Whitehead channels Pip in ‘Lord of the Rings’, but the love triangle is a bit ‘Twilight’.

But very often the movie feels like a horror film. There’s a strong metaphor of Hammer Horror at the back of all this. The masked scene is pure ‘La Belle et La Bete’, the scene with the fire is pure ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’ and the scenes of Emily on the grass feels very Summer of Love and Manson-esque in a good way.

Despite being a biopic, it feels far more like a Bronte adaptation. I was greatly reminded of Andrea Arnold’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ (2011). But the series at the back of my mind was Susanna White’s ‘Jane Eyre’ and that’s ok because I really like Susanna White’s ‘Jane Eyre’.


Featured Image: Embankment Films/Ingenious Media/Tempo Productions
Arenamedia/Warner Bros. Pictures

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