Actress Frances O’Connor has written and directed Emma, a film about the life of famous author and sibling Emily Brontë. As for its plot, Emily skates along fairly familiar territory if you’ve ever seen a Jane Austen adaptation or any other breeches-and-ball gowns film. Act One introduces us to the Brontë family with its overbearing patriarch (Adrian Dunbar) and Emily’s anarchic brother (Fionn Whitehead). Curiously, for this stretch of the film, Emily strays from the typical biopic trappings; O’Connor’s interests lie less in the writer’s literary pursuits than they do in Emily’s daily life and her struggles to hold onto her independence in a rigidly conservative society.
Then, O’Connor delights in putting Emily in a Gothic romance of her own. Her sexual and romantic relationship with the new curate, William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), feels more literary than real — apropos, since the real Weightman was actually Anne Brontë’s lover, not Emily’s. The filmmaker is likely going to get dozens of letters from stuffy college English professors about the implications Emily makes, but O’Connor cheekily covers her tracks by having Emily demand that her love poems be destroyed upon her death. It doesn’t matter how much of the film is fictional, anyway — it’s boring to labor over how much of a biopic actually happened.