Real biographical information about stormy heights author Emily Brontë is notoriously frugal. Much of what has been written about her comes from her sister and fellow author Charlotte, author of Jane Eyre. Given the unknowability of the true nature of Emily, writer/director Frances O’Connor injects her story with pure conjecture in her muddled feature debut titled “Emily“, starring Emma Mackey in the title role.
In principle, this take on the mysterious literary figure is not necessarily bad. Unfortunately, O’Connor’s execution. Although there is some fire beneath Mackey’s sullen expression, much of her direction seems to have been to make her eyes as wide as possible and always keep her mouth in a grim pout. Worse, O’Connor anchors Emily’s artistic coming-of-age to an outsider romance with a hunky curate who also teaches her French. Sure, we’re in the age of “insert historical figure here who f*cks” storytelling, but this plays more like bad fanfiction, especially compared to the depth of human emotion Emily’s masterpiece reaches.
Along with saddling her with a really runaway top that rips off bad romance, O’Connor throws both Charlotte and especially Anne out with the bathwater. Every chance the film gets, Charlotte is artistically – and at one point romantically – pitted against her sister. While Anne is relegated to about three or four scenes, forever the forgotten Brontë. (Side note: read her novel Agnes Grey if you ever get a chance.) Their brother Branwell fares much better, and this might be the most you’ll ever see of him in a film about the Brontës. O’Connor seems to suggest the incest themes found in stormy heights may have a family root.
O’Connor’s debut is certainly ambitious, but with footage ripped from countless better period films, an overbearing score from Abel Korzeniowskiand an outdated way of pitting women against each other, I could only think that Emily’s legacy deserved better than this.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 feature debut “Causeway,” which serves as a return to form star Jennifer Lawrence, who cut his teeth on similarly intimate character studies like “Winter’s Bone.” While the script, which has three credited writers (Otessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel and Elizabeth Sanders), feels a little thin at times, the drama mostly works because of strong performances from Lawrence, Linda Emondand Brian Tyree Henry (who has long established himself as one of the best character actors of his generation)