A sultry new drama about Wuthering Heights author Emily Brontë is an opportunity to introduce the Brontë sisters to younger audiences, one of the film’s stars has said.
Released in theaters on Friday, Emily – directed by Frances O’Connor and starring Sex Education’s Emma Mackey in the lead role – imagines Brontë’s life in the years that led her to write one of the world’s best-loved novels. of English literature.
Though it bucks the recent trend of millennial period dramas (think Ariana Grande’s string versions of Bridgerton and Dakota Johnson’s Fleabag-esque breaking of the fourth wall in Persuasion), it manages always capturing the Victorian era through a modern sensibility. Emily, who died of tuberculosis at age 30, is portrayed as a sensitive, misfit rebel who broke free from the shackles of society to live authentically.
“Emily Brontë, or certainly our interpretation of her, is extremely on point,” said Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who plays William Weightman, a handsome parish priest who moves to town, excites the women, and eventually becomes the illicit lover of Bronte.
“There is something quite contemporary in the film. It talks about all the things that are still incredibly relevant to younger audiences. Feeling like an outcast in society, being told you need to conform, fight against it, and have the strength to stand up for who you are.
The film seeks to connect Brontë’s reclusiveness and emotional volatility to trauma and depression – issues that were rarely, if ever, taken seriously in the 19th century. “To look at it from a modern perspective, Emily clearly had a mental health issue,” Jackson-Cohen said.
The 35-year-old actor, who shot to fame after starring roles in Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor, said Brontë was “fierce, in an unbelievable way” and paid tribute to his “Bravery to break the mold at that time. Still to this day, there is pressure to keep us in boxes. She was clearly an extraordinary woman.
While Weightman lived in the Brontë family home for a few years, there is no historical record of him and Emily together – in fact, it was Anne Brontë who, according to the letters, developed a close relationship with the clergyman. But with much of Emily’s life remaining a mystery (what little is known is filtered through the biographies of her sister Charlotte), there was room for the filmmakers to get creative.
And for many Brontë readers, it’s satisfying to imagine the writer in the throes of a passionate love affair that inspired characters such as Cathy and Heathcliff.
“Weightman came to Haworth and was a bit flirtatious,” Jackson-Cohen said. “It’s true that he wrote Valentine’s Day cards to the three Brontë sisters, and he ended up forming a very close bond with Anne. There were letters about her caring for him just before his death The movie picks up on that idea and goes, “What if it had been Emily?”
“I think there’s always something interesting about forbidden love. I’m not religious, so in preparation for the role, I talked to so many priests and pastors to understand what it’s like to live by those rules. For these people, having their faith questioned because of their own desire must have felt like an earthquake.
Although Jackson-Cohen has a history of playing toxic men — from the murderous husband in 2020 horror film The Invisible Man to the creepy husband in Apple TV+’s recent psychological thriller series Surface, Weightman was more nuanced, did he declare.
“It’s kind of weird as an actor, you can understand their place in the play but you can’t judge them, you have to find a way not to be aware of their toxicity and find a way to rationalize their behavior, ” he said.
“What’s interesting about this movie is that there are all these characters who aren’t necessarily likable, they’re incredibly flawed, much like Wuthering Heights itself.
“I don’t know if I would classify Weightman as toxic. He behaves badly, but I hope the understanding is that it was because of the society at the time, that he protected his faith, and also the scandal that would have followed for him and Emily. If you think about it, there was no place in society for women to be sexually active without being married. And for men, and more particularly a clergyman.
Jackson-Cohen also praised O’Connor’s immersion in the lives of the Brontë sisters. “The love she has for the sisters’ work makes this film unique,” he said. The first director, who previously starred in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and The Importance of Being Earnest, said the film was meant to wind up historians.
“But the movie is by no means a biopic,” Jackson-Cohen said. “It’s an ode to Emily’s imagination. It opens up the idea of creativity and what may or may not have inspired her to write this novel that is still so revered today.