True biographical information about Wuthering Heights author Emily Brontë is notoriously sparse. Much of what has been written about her comes from the point of view of her sister, and fellow writer, Charlotte, author of Jane Eyre. Given the unknowability of the true nature of Emily, writer/director Frances O’Connor injects her history with pure conjecture in her messy feature film debut entitled “Emily,” starring Emma Mackey in the title role.
On principle, this take on the mysterious literary figure isn’t necessarily bad. Unfortunately O’Connor’s execution is. While there’s some fire under Mackey’s sullen expression, much of her direction seems to have been to make her eyes as wide as possible and to keep her mouth always in a somber pout. Worse, O’Connor anchors Emily’s artistic coming-of-age to a rote romance with a hunky curate who also tutors her in French. Sure, we’re in the age of “insert historical figure here who f*cks” style of storytelling, but plays here more like bad fan fiction, especially when compared with the depths of human emotion Emily’s masterwork reaches.
Along with saddling her with a truly run-of-the-mill bodice ripping bad romance, O’Connor throws both Charlotte, and especially Anne, out with the bath water. Every chance the film gets, Charlotte is pitted artistically—and at one point, romantically—against her sister. While Anne is relegated to about three or four scenes, forever the forgotten Brontë. (Side note: do read her novel Agnes Grey if you ever get a chance.) Their brother Branwell fares much better, and this is perhaps the most you’ll ever see of him in a film about the Brontës. O’Connor seems to suggest the incest themes found in Wuthering Heights may have a familial root.
O’Connor’s debut is ambitious for sure, but with imagery ripped from countless better period set films, an overbearing score from Abel Korzeniowski, and an outdated way of pitting women against each other, I could only think that Emily’s legacy deserved better than this.
Continuing this theme comes director Lila Neugebauer’s long delayed debut feature film “Causeway,” which serves as a return to form for star Jennifer Lawrence, who cut her teeth on similar intimate character studies like “Winter’s Bone.” While the script, which has three credited writers (Otessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel, and Elizabeth Sanders), sometimes feels a bit thin, the drama works mostly due to the strong performances from Lawrence, Linda Emond, and Brian Tyree Henry (who has long established himself as one of the best character actors of his generation)