“When we stop seeing the world as a ‘problem’ to be solved, when instead we open our hearts to the mystery of our common suffering, we may find ourselves where we least expected to be; in a world transformed by love.”
— Philip Simmons in Learning to Fall
It is such a pleasure to be immersed in a film that introduces us to an insightful portrayal of human personalities, the complexity of our interaction with others, the ambiguity of our motives, and the impact of social structures upon our activities.
These life experiences are depicted in this imaginative portrayal of Emily Bronte whose heralded novel Wuthering Heights has stood the test of time and inspired creative and rebellious generations of women who seek their own soulful paths.
In her first feature, writer and director Frances O’Connor has spoken of her hopes for the film and its many meanings. These thoughts were given to the press.
“Emily Bronte’s work, and who she was in this world, speaks to me so deeply that I have always yearned to know who she really was. Emily’s work is full of passion, feeling, violence, and fierce intelligence.”
“I wanted to create an imagined life for Emily so she could live again. This is a story about a rebel and misfit, a young woman daring to form herself, to embrace her true nature, despite the consequences.”
“Like Wuthering Heights, the film possesses an atmosphere of something supernatural and emotional embedded in a story that is domestic and viscerally real. The theme of ‘accepting your humanity’ is important to me. I want to express in this story what it is to be human in life as a woman, to aspire, to struggle, to evolve, and become a true person.”
Emily (Emma Mackey) is a shy young woman who lives in Yorkshire with her widowed father (Adrian Dunbar), a clergyman, and her three sisters. More than her sisters, Emily regularly explores the range of hills near the border with Scotland and even savors the frequent thunderstorms followed by heavy rain.
In the village, she is called “the strange one,” which proves to be an embarrassment to her older sister Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling). However, Emily’s older brother Bramwell (Frion Whitehead) shares with her a fascination with danger, mystery, and unconventional behavior. On a walk together, he encourages her to take up his mantra: “Freedom and Thought.” Brother and sister also share an obsession with writing.
The entire household is transformed with the arrival of William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), the young curate brought to the church to assist Emily’s father. When he is assigned to be Emily’s French tutor, a relationship slowly grows between them.
Writer and director Frances O’Conner evidences great respect for the themes expressed in Emily Bronte’s novel. Two wonder-inducing scenes involve a mask and a sheet blowing in the breeze. Best of all is the filmmaker’s apparent agreement with Buddhist Lama Surya Das in Awakening to the Sacred where he writes:
“Learning how to love is the goal and purpose of spiritual life — not learning how to develop psychic powers, not learning how to bow, chant, do yoga, or even meditate, but learning to love. Love is the truth. Love is the light.”