Frances O'Connor has appeared in a huge range of film and TV projects as an actor – from Steven Spielberg's AI: Artificial Intelligence to ITV drama Mr Selfridge – and now, she's making her directorial debut with the upcoming film Emily.


The film sees Sex Education star Emma Mackey take on the lead role as renowned author Emily Brontë, exploring her life before she wrote her masterwork Wuthering Heights.

A first trailer – which you can watch below – has just been released, and to mark the occasion O'Connor spoke exclusively to about what cinemagoers can expect when the film is released on Friday 14th October.

"She's a rebel and a misfit and a genius, but she just doesn't know it yet," O'Connor explained, referring to the three words used to describe Brontë in the trailer. "And I think in a way it's like an origin story about how this young woman finds her power – it follows very much that kind of hero's journey arc."

O'Connor has been drawn to Brontë's work for a long time – she loved Wuthering Heights as a teenager and has always been fascinated by her as a person – and much of the film aims to get to grips with what drew her to write the classic novel.

"She died when she was 30, she was an intensely private person," she said. "And yet she wrote this novel that's just full of this kind of huge passionate feeling, this kind of darkness. And I just thought, well, who is she? You know, to write this kind of work."

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Emma Mackey
Emma Mackey in Emily. WB

As the trailer suggests, O'Connor was keen to take steps to ensure the film is relatively modern in its approach, avoiding the pitfalls of becoming a more traditional, fussy period drama.

But she explained that when it comes to this sort of modernisation, it can be a fine line between appearing fresh and coming across as a little phony.

"You have to know who you are, and what the stories are telling," she said. "If you look at like something like [Armando Iannucci's] David Copperfield, it's got a poppy kind of vibe to it, and it really works. And then there are other people who maybe attempt to do something like that, and it's just slightly skewed.

"But what we wanted to do is make it feel very authentic. My heroes are [Alejandro G] Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón and Jacques Audiard. These films where it's handheld, but it's very gentle, and it creates a sense of reality.

"It's about people seeming real and human," she added. "Often when you get these period dramas, people start acting [in a certain way] and it's just... I don't think people ever acted like that. For me, it's set in a period but they're just people like us, just young kids trying to enjoy themselves or find out who they are."

Emily poster
New poster for Emily starring Emma Mackey Warner Bros

Even though O'Connor undertook a huge amount of research before writing and directing the film – citing books by Juliet Barker and Lucasta Miller as especially helpful – she explained that it's only inevitable that "there'll be some Brontë-ites who won't like it".

The reason for this is that the film is not simply a straight biography of the author, but rather draws inspiration from other sources as well.

"It's inspired by Wuthering Heights and her life and things that happened to me, so it's kind of like a combination of all those things," she said.

"When you see the film, it's clearly not a biography. Like we have the atmosphere of Wuthering Heights, and there's this event with a mask. And so it's kind of inspired by true events, but it kind of... I let my imagination go wild."

Of course, one thing that was absolutely crucial for the film to work was finding the perfect actor to play Emily Brontë, and in casting Emma Mackey, O'Connor was able to find not only an excellent performer, but also someone who loved the author just as much as she did.

"She was literally one of the first people who read for it," she explained. "And I remember after she left, the casting director, and I just looked at each other, and were like, 'Oh my God.'

"There was something about her energy and her just sense of who she is – she's very assured in who she is, and very real, like 100% authentic real. And she's got a real intelligence to her.

"And also she – like me – loves Emily Brontë, and had gone to uni in Leeds, in Yorkshire. So it was just like a little bit of a meeting of, you know, Emily Brontë and then somebody who really loved her, so I felt like it was quite synchronous."

Emily will be released in UK cinemas on Friday 14th October 2022. Check out more of our Movies coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.


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