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!
There’s no evidence that Emily was ever interested in anybody of either sex romantically.
Charlotte barely noticed Arthur Bell Nichols until the evening he stunned her speechless with a passionate avowal of love. She didn’t start to fall in love with him until after the wedding. But by the time she came back from the honeymoon she was as gone as he was. Thanks to Nichols Charlotte was extremely happy the last year of her life. Happier than she’d been since she was a child. It is btw very probable that her death had nothing to do with her supposed pregnancy but was due either to influenza or the TB that had carried off her sisters.
Nichols cared devotedly for The Rev. Bronte until his death whereupon Arthur returned to his native Ireland and finally remarried but he treasured Charlotte’s memory, and tried to defend it, till he died. There is absolutely no doubt of the depth and genuiness of his love for her.