February 16, 2023
Greetings again from the darkness. These days, it seems like we know entirely too much about the personal and professional lives of writers, actors … well, just about everyone. Of course, it wasn’t always like that. And taking that to an extreme is the all-too-brief life of Emily Bronte. Imagine if someone wrote a book today as popular and terrific as “Wuthering Heights”. We would likely know the name of their pet, their spouse, and where they eat lunch. For Emily Bronte, the details are not only scarce, but also not totally trustworthy, given that much of it comes from her older sister who had a touch of envy, or at least a competitive edge.
Frances O’Connor (known as an actor in such films as AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE and MANSFIELD PARK) chose a dramatic imagining of Emily’s life as her first feature film as writer-director. Emma Mackey (DEATH ON THE NILE, 2022) stars as Emily Bronte, and turns in a really nice and believable performance as someone whom we can only imagine her life in the 19th century. The reputation is that of someone who was socially awkward, and a bit of a sickly recluse. We do know that she died at age 30. We can also relate to the opening scene when Charlotte asks an ill Emily “How did you write it?” (referring to “Wuthering Heights”).
In fact, filmmaker O’Connor likely based her entire script on that question, and what she presents is quite interesting – regardless of how accurate it might (or might not) be. Emily and her younger sister Anne (Amelia Gething) spend days constructing stories together, and then Emily takes it further by writing poetry. As the eldest sibling, Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling) is the favorite of their father (Adrian Dunbar), a priest at the local church. Emily is known as “the strange one”, despite her beautiful piano playing, and mostly secret writing skills.
Emily and her brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead, DUNKIRK, 2017) have an unusual bond. He’s a troubled young man weakened in spirit by spirits (the alcoholic kind). All of the dynamics shift quickly when William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, MR MALCOLM’S LIST, 2022) arrives as the new curate. His sermons are a form of poetry, and this intrigues all Bronte sisters, especially Emily. As Weightman teaches her French, their relationship transforms from one of butting heads to one of clandestine intimacy … and both are changed.
Although the film does explore the effect of the mother’s previous death, in real life, this family faced even more grief from death … including Emily’s at age 30. The sibling rivalry is a believable aspect, as Emily wrote “Wuthering Heights” and Charlotte wrote “Jane Eyre” (and a portion of “Emma”). With such a legacy, we have been left to wonder what became of Emily’s other writings, and Ms. O’Connor offers up one idea. The proof of Emily’s brilliance and talent is on the page for all to read, however, we will never truly know her inspirations and desires. Kudos to Frances O’Connor and Emma Mackey for filling in the gap … even if we will never know how close or far from the truth they landed.
Opening February 17, 2023
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Leave a Comment » | Drama, Fantasy | Tagged: Adrian Dunbar, Alexandra Dowling, Amelia Gething, Emma Mackey, Fionn Whitehead, Frances O'Connor, Oliver Jackson-Cohen | Permalink
Posted by David Ferguson
February 8, 2022
Greetings again from the darkness. For us Agatha Christie fans, a certain amount of trepidation exists every time a new movie or TV version of her work hits. Stress level was reduced a bit this time since director-actor Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green are back following their collaboration on Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017). Although the star power this time isn’t quite at the level of ‘Orient’, it seems Mr. Branagh has grown quite fond and confident of his own Hercule Poirot, the Belgian super-sleuth.
Director Branagh takes an unusual approach with a black and white Prologue from 1914 as a young Poirot shows flashes of his intellect as a soldier in WWI. The real purpose of this segment is to show Poirot was once a young man in love, and then a wounded soldier in love, and then a broken-hearted wounded man who would go on to become the world’s greatest detective. The prologue also provides backstory on the infamous mustache that is so much a part of Poirot.
We then flash forward to a 1937 London speakeasy where a fastidious Poirot fusses over dessert while watching the formation of a shaky love triangle unfold on the dance floor as Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo, with singing vocals from Sister Rosetta Tharpe) belts out her bluesy tunes on stage. Initially it’s Jacqueline de Bellefort (relative newcomer Emma Mackey) in the throes of lustful dance moves with her fiancé Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer in the last gasp of a once skyrocketing career). Things change quickly when Jacqui’s former schoolmate, Linnete Ridgeway (Gal Gadot), makes her show-stopping appearance in a glittery metallic gown. Flash forward again, this time 6 weeks, and its Linnete and Simon tying the knot at the picturesque Cataract Hotel in Aswan on the River Nile. See, Linnete is an heiress to her less-than-scrupulous father’s fortune, and Simon had no trouble trading up. Jacqui, on the other hand, doesn’t take it so well.
Of course the fun part of Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries involves getting to know the players and watching as the clues reveal themselves, and then how Poirot handles the big reveal. This film’s only real weakness is the character development of everyone not named Hercule Poirot. We only skim the surface of Euphemia Buoc (Annette Bening) as Buoc’s (a returning Tom Bateman) disapproving mother, Dr. Windlesham (an unusually reserved Russell Brand), Linnete’s chambermaid Louise (Rose Leslie), Linette’s Godmother and her “nurse” (Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, respectively), family attorney Andrew (Ali Fazal), and Salome’s niece and manager, Rosalie (Letitia Wright), the proverbial sharpest knife in the drawer.
So what do we get? Well, first and foremost, a fully formed Poirot. Branagh seems to have embraced the character and the mustache, having a blast with his scenes. We also get stunning work from cinematographer Harris Zambarloukos, as he films the beautiful people, the beautiful wardrobes, and such sites as the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, Ramses statues of Abu Simbel, and the excellent set piece known as the Karnak luxury steamer. There are some metaphorical effects inserted that periodically startle us, and seem unnecessary, but then over-the-top moments are not unusual in film presentations of Christie’s writing. She passed away in 1976, and now there are almost 200 film and TV projects associated with her work.
Love and betrayal are key elements here, and for fans of the original book and the 1978 film version, comparisons are unavoidable. Ms. Mackey’s jilted lover stalker is a marked improvement over Mia Farrow’s character, while Salome and Rosalie and terrific additions. Ms. Saunders and Ms. French follow in the footsteps of cinematic heavyweights Bette Davis and Maggie Smith, and your choice of Branagh or Peter Ustinov as Poirot is one left up to you. It’s tough to beat ‘whodunnit escapism’, though it’s a personal choice on which of Christie’s stories serve up the best puzzle pieces on the big screen.
Opens in theaters on February 11, 2022
WATCH THE TRAILER
Leave a Comment » | Drama, Thriller | Tagged: Agatha Christie, Annette Bening, Armie Hammer, Dawn French, Emma Mackey, Gal Gadot, Harris Zambarkoukos, Jennifer Saunders, Kenneth Branagh, Letitia Wright, Michael Green, Rose Leslie, Russell Brand, Sophie Okonedo, Tom Bateman | Permalink
Posted by David Ferguson