Emily, not the Criminal (CREDIT: Bleecker Street)

Starring: Emma Mackey, Fionn Whitehead, Oliver-Jackson Cohen, Alexandra Dowling, Amelia Githing, Adrian Dunbar, Gemma Jones

Director: Frances O’Connor

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rating: R for Opium and Heaving Bosoms

Release Date: February 17, 2023 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Emily Brontë (Emma Mackey) has a terrible case of Middle Child Syndrome! Her older sister Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling) calls her “the Strange One,” while their younger sister Anne (Amelia Gething) seems to skate by without anyone giving her guff for anything. Why can’t they just leave her be? They’ve all got the literary bug, after all! At least Emily can lean on her similarly misunderstood brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead) for support. And then there are her explosive French lessons with her tutor William Weightman (Oliver-Jackson Cohen), which eventually erupt into something stunningly passionate. Meanwhile, Brontë patriarch Patrick (Adrian Dunbar) just doesn’t seem to understand any of his children.

What Made an Impression?: Despite being an English major, I don’t have much experience with the work of the Brontë sisters, and Emily forced me to take stock of what I do know about them. I’m aware that Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre, and I’ve seen the 2011 adaptation of that one starring Mia Wasikowska and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Meanwhile, when I hear the name “Anne Brontë,” the first thing I think of is the time that Jeopardy! champ Roger Craig quadrupled his score in the span of two clues. And of course I’ve heard that Emily wrote Wuthering Heights, but the only one of its many adaptations that I’ve ever seen is the semaphore version from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

This is all to say that I came into Emily as a bit of a blank slate! Or at least something close to it. I was completely unfamiliar with Ms. Middle Brontë’s “Strange One” reputation, and let me tell you: I thought it was a bunch of baloney! And I think that was the reaction that writer-director Frances O’Connor was going for. So mission accomplished there on revising the historical record.

Other than that, Emily struck me as a fairly typical example of both a pastoral English period piece and a literary biography. Which is to say: filled with internal distress and verdant passion that can’t quite match the fictional output of its subject. But then we get into the love affair, and oh my, is it a lot more explicit than I was expecting! Let’s just say, that R rating is earned. I won’t ever underestimate you again, cast and crew of Emily.

Emily is Recommended If You Like: Bodice-ripping

Grade: 3 out of 5 Cliffs