selenak: (Emily by Lotesse)
[personal profile] selenak
Directed by Sally Wainwright, broadcast on British tv last month and available on dvd to continental types like yours truly, this movie about the Brontes focuses on the roughly two years in which they wrote their novels (breakout novels, in Charlotte's case, the only one of the siblings to survive a few years longer; all the novels we have, in in Anne's and Emily's), years that were also framed by their brother Branwell's drinking himself to death.




The film's script points out how tightly interconnected these events were; all the Brontes (all four siblings and even father Patrick, who used to write pastoral poetry as a younger man, and was a fiery letter writer to newspapers till his death) had written for years, but it's the awareness that Branwell will never be able to support them, and that as soon as their father is dead, they won't be able to stay at the parsonage, either, that pushes Charlotte and Anne into trying to publication, and persuading the reluctant Emily to go along with this. (They'd tried work as teachers and governesses before; it wasn't a success.) None of them could have known their father would outlive them all; making it as writers thus has a very practical reason in addition to an emotional one.

It's my kind of film, and not just because I love the Brontes. Sally Wainwright resists the temptation of inventing romances suspiciously resembling plots from their novels (something that haunts most film takes on Jane Austen and nearly all the novels about the Brontes I've read), and in fact doesn't go for romance in the sense of m/f at all in terms of on screen characters. Charlotte's later husband, her father's curate, Arthur Nichols, shows up in two or three scenes where except for a sentence he's silent (but helpful in dragging the drunken Branwell inside) and is awkwardly enough around Charlotte that you know he has a thing for her, but that's it, and it's easy to miss if you don't know who he is. This is first and foremost a family story; about what it means to live with an addict bent on destroying himself (something, of course, that shows up big time in Anne's novel The Tennant of Wildfell Hall and via Hindley Earnshaw in Emily's Wuthering Heights), about complicated sibling relationships, about siblings both supporting and losing each other. The opening is a half dream, half internal reality sequence, where the four children start their game of imagination, creating worlds out of Branwell's toy soldiers, at once children in nightgowns and with fire around their heads as they were in their first stories, and near the end, we get a repetition of that igniting moment inside of the dying Branwell's dream, only this time, the fire is solely around the three girls' heads, and he's told "you can go" as they reject him. And despite Branwell having put his family through hell through the movie, it's a heartbreaking moment; throughout all the self destruction, there were always also flickering moments with each of the sisters where you could see how close they used to be, and why they all loved each other.

Charlotte is played by Finn Atkins who captures both the bossiness at home and awkward shyness in society, the inner rage (at a lot of things and people) and early on the depression (when Charlotte is still reeling from her not-affair with her Belgian married teacher who rejected her passion (and the fact that Branwell did have an affair with his married employer and keeps vocalizing his woes doesn't help), while there's always the steel that makes you understand why Charlotte won't sink under when about to lose her entire family in the next few years. She's both awed at Emily's poetry and not really understanding her, while chronically underestimating Anne despite the fact Anne keeps having her back. (It's Anne - played by Charlie Murphy - who first points out they need to find another way to earn a living, Anne who calms Emily down after Charlotte read Emily's poems without asking for permission, Anne who says she also wants to publish etc.) Because we simply don't have much first hand material on Anne and Emily, while there's a lot for Charlotte, there's no way of getting around the fact biographers mostly get aquainted with her sisters through her eyes, and so non fictional biographies tend to reflect this unless they get into the area of speculation. A movie is happily licensend to speculation anyway, and so we do get as much of Anne as of the other sisters, and the very close relatonship between Anne and Emily (who shared the fantasy realm of Gondal, as Charlotte and Branwell used to share Angria as children, only Branwell never left). Which, btw, isn't presented as Anne saddled with the task of genius wrangling. Emily's a great mixture of practical no-nonsense in her every day life and completely embracing the imaginary one (Emily also never left Gondal), and if Anne talks her down after her explosion about Charlotte's intrusion, Emily soothes Anne when Anne is having a reliigious guiit crisis (which Anne did). None of the relationships is just one sided, and yet you can also see the differences; the scene where Emily gleefully tells Anne about the rl story she picked up in her sole stint as a teacher (which in biographies is regarded as a possible inspiration for Wuthering Heights; a movie doesn't have to do "maybe" and just rolls with it) and unabashedly delights in the Maybe-Model-For-Heathcliff's villainy, you can tell from Anne's expression that plotting family destruction isn't her idea of fun.

Patrick, who is played by Jonathan Pryce, is fortunately not the ogre of Mrs. Gaskell's creation but the good father Juliet Barker championed. (I do not like Patrick bashing in my Bronte faction and fiction, which is one reason why I stayed away from the most recent Charlotte biography after browsing through it.) Pryce is good as usual, but doesn't even ty for an Irish accent. Speaking of accents, the girls & Branwell struck this foreigner as standard Northern rather than the complicated mixture of Yorkshire and inherited-from-Patrick Irish that descriptions testify, which was probably wise because this movie isn't just aimed as an in-the-know audience and where Patrick was originally from is never alluded to, as it's not relevant for the two years time frame of the story. Haworth looks likes itself minus the tourists, and all three actresses happily don't look as if they've just escaped the make up artist, though undoubtedly they did, given this is how it works in movies. In fact, Finn Atkins as Charlotte looks like no Jane Eyre ever was allowed to - actually plain and small and not pretty. Emily is the tallest, as she should be, and Adam Nagaitis as Branwell is smaller than anyone except Charlotte (again, as it should be), the red hair and glasses instead of being made to look Byronic, and he does the full physical decline that goes along with Branwell's self destruction frighteningly well. The two contrasting events that cap the movie, on the one hand Charlotte and Anne visiting Charlotte's publisher in London to prove that he's not cheated on and Currer Bell (Charlotte) is not the same person as Acton Bell (Anne), which results of one of those famous literary discovery scenes when the publisher goes from nice but faintly patronizing to the ladies from the province to just plain awed (ZOMG it's my new bestselling author! Must celebrate!) and the awareness that they've made it, on the other Branwell dying, would have served as a perfect ending, with or without the credits that inform us about the deaths that followed (Emily after taking a chill at Branwell's funeral, Anne after Emily, Charlotte making it for a few more years before succumbing as well), but alas Sally Wainwright can't resist and makes the one filmic choice I disagree with - the scene from present day Haworth with all the tourists and Bronte pilgrims at the parsonage and Haworth bookstore. I mean, I get it, it's the same reason why in Doctor Who's Van Gogh episode the Doctor and Amy want to show Vincent how much his work is loved in the future, but I really don't think the movie needed it. It had its moment of triumph for the Brontes (and the audience) already, and if Wainwright wanted an uplifting note after Branwell's death, I'd have stuck with the panning across the Yorkshire scenery which gave them life in more than one sense. But this nitpick not withstanding, I really appreciated this film and its characterisations, the fierce intelligence of it, and the messy family relations. Reccommended.

Date: 19 Feb 2017 19:13 (UTC)
muccamukk: Close up of Jupiter in her fancy wedding outfit. (JA: Wedding)
From: [personal profile] muccamukk
That ending does sound a bit much. I feel like if we're watching a limited release movie about the Brontes, we prooooooobably know they made it big?

I'll check it out, anyway.

Date: 20 Feb 2017 03:05 (UTC)
labingi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] labingi
I want to see this!! Thanks for the review.

Date: 20 Feb 2017 18:15 (UTC)
watervole: (Default)
From: [personal profile] watervole
I recorded this one and I'm waiting for a nice quiet evening on my own to watch it.

Good review -thanks.

Date: 21 Feb 2017 16:34 (UTC)
kalypso: (Book)
From: [personal profile] kalypso
Yes, I'd have cut the present-day scene. Maybe it was to prove they were on location.

I watched this on broadcast, but I saved it to watch again once I'd passed my deadline, which I now have, so I'll get back to it soon.

Date: 25 Feb 2017 17:55 (UTC)
kalypso: (Book)
From: [personal profile] kalypso
It looked as if they'd had help from the Parsonage/museum, so maybe they felt they should reciprocate with some publicity.

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