Review by Cole Groth
Frances O’Connor’s directorial debut, Emily, premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews. Critics praised the film as a brilliant biographical drama in its portrayal of writer Emily Brontë. While Emma Mackey’s performance is the best in an already excellent career, and the production design is incredible, it’s hard for anything to stand out in this drab and overlong slog of a biopic.
In addition to directing, O’Connor pens the script. She weaves real elements of Brontë’s life and combines them with a fictional relationship between her and a priest. While it’s not as strange as Blonde, it’s still strange to make up entire elements of somebody’s life for the sake of drama. The script is somewhat generic, and it feels like it’s a cobbled-together version of other period biopics.
The outstanding production value stops this from being a miserable experience. The costumes and set design make this look like it takes place in the early 1800s. The cinematography from Nanu Segal and the score from Abel Korzeniowski is beautiful. Every scene is dreary and very British, but it’s strangely beautiful simultaneously.
Emma Mackey’s performance will be remembered and should help her secure more starring roles in the future. She shows excellent range as a tortured mind in 19th-century Britain. Fionn Whitehead and Oliver Jackson-Cohen are great in their supporting performances but don’t reach the level of Mackey. While the film is named after Mackey’s role, it seems amateur to sideline almost every other character.
While there are some positives, this is one of the dullest viewing experiences in a long time. At over two hours long, every minute of this feels somewhat wasted. It’s about as fun to watch as it is to read through Brontë’s Wikipedia page from start to finish. Biographical dramas, by their nature, are typically slow already, but this one feels like it could’ve been 90 minutes long, and it would’ve had the same effect. It also doesn’t help that the film doesn’t feel necessary.
Before this film, I had no idea who Emily Brontë was. Usually, this would make me a member of the target audience because I would be learning about an unknown historical figure, but after watching this, I still have no idea who she is. A biopic about an obscure person in history should bring to light precisely who they are, but she seems like an incredibly unimportant woman. We’re painted a vague portrait of Brontë’s life, which only would work with household names.
After sitting through 130 minutes of a beautifully bland drama, Emily doesn’t justify its existence. It feels somewhat derivative of other female-centered historical dramas and is simply not interesting. If you’re a fan of uncompelling films, then you might enjoy the melancholic portrayal of Brontë’s life. Otherwise, you’d be better off skipping this entirely.
Emily releases in theaters starting February 17.