Emma Mackey on playing Emily Bronte: It was always my dream to run around the moors in a crinoline

Actress Emma Mackey has said starring in a film about Emily Brontë was a dream because she was “raised on period dramas”. The Sex Education star, who was brought up in France, plays the Yorkshire-born author known for her only novel, Wuthering Heights, widely considered a classic of English literature.

Speaking about filming in Yorkshire, Mackey told Harper’s Bazaar UK: “I grew up in France but was raised on period dramas, so it was always my dream to run around the moors in a crinoline. I chose this film because it felt fresh, with a punchy script.”

Emily is a fictionalised biopic written and directed by Frances O’Connor in her directorial debut and covers Brontë’s short life, which ended in December 1848 when she died aged 30 from tuberculosis.

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When filming was underway last year, O’Connor said: “Emily Brontë’s work and words are full of passion, feeling, violence, and fierce intelligence. In creating an imagined life for Emily, she will live again for our audience.

Emma Mackey at the UK premiere of Emily. Photo: Ian West/PA WireEmma Mackey at the UK premiere of Emily. Photo: Ian West/PA Wire
Emma Mackey at the UK premiere of Emily. Photo: Ian West/PA Wire

“Her story is about a young woman daring to form herself, to embrace her true nature, despite the consequences.

“Emily is, in fact, a love letter to women today, especially young women, a calling to them to challenge themselves to connect with their authentic voice and potential.”

Speaking about Brontë’s portrayal, Mackey has now added: “I don’t want her to be seen as the kooky rebel, who goes off on this adventure of self-discovery to smoke pot, have sex and find herself.

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“I don’t think she would have thought, ‘Oh, I’m being so feminist right now’. It’s more complicated and also more pure than that. She exists in her own right.

“Emily is sometimes very still, but often wrestling with the elements, with the landscape, and she feels and responds to things viscerally. I don’t think you have to intellectualise her feelings or reactions – she is always instinctive.”

Reflecting on her similarities to the writer, she said: “Clearly, Emily Brontë and I are very different people, but what we do have in common is being a bit singular, wanting to tell stories and to be in control of them.”

Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, initially released in 1847 under her pseudonym Ellis Bell, has itself been adapted for film on a number of occasions. 2020 marked 100 years since the first motion picture version of the story was released.

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The film differs from many other versions because it was a more comprehensive telling of the novel, Ann Dinsdale, head curator at the Brontë Parsonage, said at the time of the centenary.

“There was a real attempt to capture the whole novel. They told the whole story, featuring both generations. Quite often film adaptions end at the point where Cathy dies but this covers the second generation as well – they employed three actors to play Heathcliffe.”

Emily is released in cinemas nationwide on October 14.