I discovered this flick on Turner Movie Classics, and like rubbernecking a horrific highway accident, I had to watch the damn thing. Because I’m a huge literary nerd (as our podcast listeners may know) and I’ve made the works of the Brontë Sisters a central part of my (frustrated, semi-failed) academic dreams.
This is supposedly a movie about the lives of the Brontë family — the sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, and their brother Patrick Branwell (called just “Branwell”). What the film really does is create a wholly fictional love triangle between their father’s curate Arthur Bell Nichols with Charlotte and Emily. *eye rolls*
Folks, there is zero historical evidence for this crap. It’s a case of taking a bunch of historical names, a few historical events and places, throwing them in a blender with a heaping helping of Hollywood cliches, and the result is a melodramatic smoothie on a soundstage dressed up with one-ring hoop skirts and 1940s bodices. Lordy, if they at least had a few petticoats over those cheap hoops so you don’t see the wire ridges. Not that this would have helped the plot.
Or the acting — Olivia de Havilland plays Charlotte Brontë as a total bitch! Ida Lupino is a sainted, oh-so-precious Emily, and Nancy Coleman is basically nonexistent as Anne. Arthur Kennedy has no choice but to play Branwell as a whiny lush, while Paul Henreid (best know as the third wheel to Bogart and Bergman in Casablanca) is the least-interesting object of two sisters vying for attention that you might imagine. He’s entirely underwhelming.
Even if, or especially if, you’re a huge Brontë fan, this is not a film for you. Re-reading one of the books is a better way to kill time. I’ve fallen on this sword for you!