Emily imagines Emily Brontë’s own Gothic story, the inspiration for her seminal novel, Wuthering Heights. Haunted by the death of her mother, Emily struggles within the confines of her family life and yearns for artistic and personal freedom, and so begins a journey to channel her creative potential into one of the greatest novels of all time. Emily made its world premiere as the Centerpiece premiere of the Platform section at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

In 1847, Emily Brontë, the reclusive daughter of a Yorkshire clergyman, shocked England’s literary world with the publication of her first and only novel, Wuthering Heights. So scandalous was her tale of obsession between high-spirited heiress Catherine Earnshaw and her foster brother Heathcliff that critics and readers alike were flabbergasted to learn that the author was a sheltered, unmarried young woman raised in a country parsonage.

Frances O’Connor makes her feature-film writing and directing debut with Emily, a daring, richly imagined portrait of one of the great enigmas of English fiction. Emily (Emma Mackey) lives with her father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë, and three siblings in a small and provincial hamlet in the north of England. Known throughout her village as “the strange one” in her family, as her disapproving older sister, Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling), likes to remind her, Emily wanders the windswept moors in search of her destiny.

When Charlotte is invited to teach at a school for young ladies, she secures a position for Emily as well, but the unfamiliar surroundings and prying eyes of colleagues send her ricocheting back home. After a few more attempts at independence, the motherless girl settles back into her father’s home and tries to make herself useful as she pursues her literary ambitions.

O’Connor uses the few facts that are known about Emily as a springboard to a passionately told fable about a complex and iconoclastic individual whose emotional fragility belies her tempestuous, rebellious nature. Joining her older brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead) in subversive neighborhood pranks, outraging the community with unconventional behavior or embarking on a dangerous and forbidden romance, Emily courts social ostracism and family disapproval while pursuing her ultimate goal: a life devoted to writing.

Set against the rugged, ever-changing beauty of the Yorkshire moors with a darkly evocative score, Emily imagines how Wuthering Heights might have been drawn from the hidden life of the second youngest Brontë sibling. Saturated with the inescapable sense of longing and loss that sets the novel apart from other Victorian romances, O’Connor’s astonishing film also stars Alexandra Dowling, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, 2 Amelia Gething, Gemma Jones and Adrian Dunbar, and introduces audiences to a compelling new incarnation of a literary giant.

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When I was just starting out in my career, I decided to visit Emily Brontë’s home in Haworth for the
first time. As I walked through the village and out onto the moors, I felt a curiously strong connection to this land. Like Emily Brontë, I grew up in a wild, slightly desolate landscape with sisters and a brother we idolized, and I too spent most of my time in my imagination, roaming the land that surrounded our house.

Emily Brontë’s work, and who she was in the world, speaks to me so deeply that I have always yearned to know who she really was. Emily’s work is full of passion, feeling, violence, and fierce intelligence. I wanted to create an imagined life for Emily so she could live again. This is a story about a rebel and misfit, a young woman daring to form herself, to embrace her true nature, despite the consequences.

Emily is really a love letter to the youth of today, especially young women, a calling to them to challenge themselves to connect to their authentic voice and the potential they have. This is not a biographic film of Emily Brontë. My intention is to show the true spirit of Emily by telling a story that is thematically true to who she was, to make the story of Emily feel documented and real, but to have these fantastic moments of dark creativity, emotion and magic.

Like Wuthering Heights, the film possesses an atmosphere of something supernatural and emotional embedded in a story that is domestic and viscerally real. The theme of “accepting your humanity” is important to me. I want to express in this story what it is to be human in life as a woman; to aspire, to struggle, to evolve, and become a whole person.

It is my hope that a young person watching this film, a creative in the making, will be moved to accept themselves as they are, not to be compelled to be perfect or what others wish them to be, but to connect to their own inner power.


About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.