Last night, I finally got the chance to finish up To Walk Invisible: The Lives of the Brontë Sisters. It’s a two-episode miniseries put out by Masterpiece and the BBC that mostly focuses on the adult lives of the three Brontë sisters, particularly their relationship with their brother Branwell.
I’m going to say this up front so that I can focus on other things later on: I really loved it. It is extremely rare for me to be able to watch anything without messing with my phone or knitting or whatever. I was absolutely glued to the screen. It was beautiful to look at, and I felt like each actor inhabited their role completely.
That said, I feel like this would be a difficult movie for someone who is not slightly Brontë-obsessed to watch. Had I watched it a year ago, before taking a class on the trio of sisters, I would’ve been pretty lost. Now that I have that semester-long class (which thankfully included lots of biographical information and reading of the Brontës’ juvenilia) under my belt, it felt more like getting to visit old friends. The film spends a decent amount of time on the Brontës as children, particularly the fantasy world of Gondal that they all wrote about as children. The miniseries throws you right into the children’s imaginary world with no explanation, and without knowing that the Brontë kids were adorably creative and made up an entire fictional universe that they used to write stories and poems and use while they played, it’s a confusing place to start. Fortunately, because of the time I spent in my aforementioned class on the Brontës, I knew what was going on, and I felt this intense rush of recognition and joy at seeing the young Brontës. It’s an important piece of them that makes them feel more real and human to me.
I also felt that the focus on Branwell, the only brother in the Brontë household, was sort of odd. I understood to some degree why he was the center of everything in the series, because he shows up in other forms so often in his sisters’ works. However, it often meant that time was taken away from the sisters and what they were doing. Branwell is an important piece of the puzzle but I would have preferred to hear the sisters discussing him more rather than seeing him slip deeper and deeper into alcoholism and illness.
Also, I had one petty complaint: Patrick Brontë, played by Jonathan Pryce (who is always a joy to watch, just as he was in this film), sounded far too British. I was looking forward to hearing a Reverend Brontë with a thick Irish brogue. Unfortunately, they decided to go a different route and have Pryce sound much as he always does.
Aside from those few things, though, I can’t say enough about the film. When the film began its final scene with the death of Branwell and transitioned to shots of Haworth Parsonage, where the Brontë family lived, as a museum crowded with people excited to see the space that Charlotte and Emily and Anne lived in, I started sobbing. It’s silly, but I just felt so proud that these sisters had made it. Charlotte, of course, was celebrated in her time, but nothing like the kind of veneration the Brontë sisters receive today. Seeing a gift shop filled with books written by and about the three sisters and people who looked like they were from all over the world poring over them was… something. Something good. The shot of the statue that stands at Haworth of the three sisters, and then the transition to the actresses who played them standing out on the moors and looking every bit the happy trio was one of the most moving things I’d ever seen. I felt such a strong sense of how much they’d overcome to be the staples of English literature they are today. It felt like they’d won on my behalf, somehow. They wrote these wonderful books that have become my touchstones, and they cleared the way for female writers and intellectuals like I fancy myself to be.
So, if you’re a diehard Brontë sisters fan, this is definitely a movie you should see. If you like Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights or are some mysterious individual who is really into The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (please get in contact if you are, I have lots of questions for you) but haven’t delved deep into the Brontë Mythos™, I definitely think it’s still worth watching, even if there’s parts of it that aren’t readily accessible. To Walk Invisible is definitely one of my new favorites.