To Walk Invisible aired on BBC1 last night and I was very excited about it – I love the Brontes and made a trip to Haworth earlier in the summer to see the Bronte Parsonage Museum. I was unsure at first, author’s lives are difficult to depict and easy to romanticise, but I was pleasantly surprised and I think Sally Wainright did a wonderful job of showing the Bronte sisters as real people in a difficult situation whilst still maintaining the idolisation of them as inspiriational women and inspirational authors.
The acting was phenomenal, as someone who has never particularly been a fan of Emily Bronte the dramatisation of her and the depiction of her complex personality was spot on – sympathetic but also angry. Chloe Pirrie was a dream to watch and truly emphasised the complexity of the woman who could have dreamt up such a bitter and complex tale as Wuthering Heights. Finn Atkins’ depiction of Charlotte was also very good, and, once again, she is a representation of her works – Jane Eyre is ‘poor, obscure, plain and little’, so is Charlotte. Anne, similarly, is a much more gentle soul, which comes across in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
All in all the characterisation was exquisite, and I loved the way Wainwright emphasised the difficulty of their situation living with a drug addict and alcoholic. It makes them more human – Branwell’s (Adam Nagaitis) problems and the problems that they cause are still relatable, and the complex representation of their sibling relationship (they clearly love each other but it is sometimes difficult to show it) also rings true of modern families. They are not overly romanticised in this adaptation (though, of course, there is a little bit of that) they are real people, in a small parish, with ambitious, risky money-making schemes and proper Yorkshire accents. It is a representation that suits them.
The cinematography was spot on, the filming was clever and unique, with beautiful framing and clear colour, unlike Witness for the Prosecution which totally overdid the atmosphere to the point of alienating the spectator, the dullness of the rural and industrial North in Victorian Britain in To Walk Invisible was emphasised through set design and the colours within it, no obvious overlay. This is particularly successful in contrast to the bright colours of the moors, obviously where Emily in particular finds her inspiration. This contrast is done so subtly the spectator can catch it if they wish or choose to not acknowledge it but be guided by it. There was some standout camera work also; drone shots with Emily marching across the moors, beautiful framing within the house using doorways – really lovely. I will admit that the dream sequences were a little strange, and the ending was a bit abrupt but apart from that I was very impressed.
The depiction of Haworth and the parsonage was tremendous also – it was exact. Anyone who has been to the museum will see that, apparently they built the house and nearby houses from scratch as it was no longer possible to use the actual house and the attention to detail is amazing, the corners and shapes and walks of the house were absolutely perfect. I cannot gush about it enough: incredible.
My only complaint would be that some things were not clear unless you are a big fan of the Brontes. I think that Wainwright missed an opportunity to do a mini-series giving a little more background, especially about how the siblings got into writing in the first place as children. I would argue that two hours is a bit long for a TV period drama, especially as they tend to plod and do not often have a moment of peak drama. To Walk Invisible was intense all the way through, but didn’t really have a crux point, the publication of Jane Eyre and the success thereafter was left for watchers in the know to fill in, whilst this is not necessarily a problem, and indeed worked quite well, I feel this is a more televisual tactic that would have led itself to a series rather than a film.
For those of us that love the Brontes, and have secret, hidden aspirations to walk along the moors and write books which touch hearts and stand the test of time, it was a real treat and the best television drama on this Christmas. A fine way to round off the celebrations of the bicentenary of Charlotte Bronte’s birth.