Emily

Review by Lauren Madigan

Too often, certain films leave the viewer grappling with the lost potential of “what could have been.” They set up the story tactfully, introduce intriguing characters and create stunning visuals, all elements that could lead to a great film but were abandoned before fully realized. Unfortunately, Emily (Frances O’Connor, 2022) is no exception to this, no matter how much the audience may want to love it. 

Set in 19th-century Yorkshire, the film follows Emily (Emma Mackey), the overshadowed and shy younger sister of golden child Charlotte Bronte (Alexandra Dowling). Known throughout town as “the strange one,” Emily is a loner who regularly indulges in her childhood fantasies, otherwise known as her “stories.” When sent to a girl’s school to become a teacher like Charlotte, Emily quickly returns home due to an intense panic attack. During this time of uncertainty, Emily begins to accept herself as she is, with support from her misfit brother, an unlikely romance, and her consuming desire to write.  

It’s clear pretty early on in the film that Emily suffers from social anxiety and doesn’t quite understand the world around her. She spends most of her time daydreaming in a secluded field and frequently questions the messages coming from her church. Although it was refreshing to follow a socially awkward young woman navigating self-discovery and mental illness during this time, her character fell apart when her romantic relationship with the unlikeable William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) began. 

After once opposing William and everything he stood for, Emily very easily abandoned her beliefs and strong will as soon as a romance blossomed between the two. The film spends far too much time focused on this uncomfortable relationship instead of Emily’s attraction to bold writing and her internal struggle with self-acceptance. 

This led to a disconnect between Emily’s character in the first act and her character throughout the rest of the film. What initially made Emily so interesting was how she contrasted the way women were expected to behave during the 19th-century. The potential for a brilliant character study was deterred by introducing an unnecessary romance that diminished what made Emily’s character so compelling.  
Though the film offers fantastic direction from Frances O’Connor and an excellent performance from Emma Mackey, a stronger focus on Emily’s social anxiety and how it impacted her desire to tell stories would have made for a more satisfying watch. The film begins by posing the question of how Emily wrote her controversial novel, Wuthering Heights, but fails to deliver a worthwhile answer. 

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