Rarely shown, generally dismissed bio-pic on the Brontë clan turns out to be uncommonly interesting, in spite of (or is it because of?) a load of fictionalized elements. Actually, it’s no more reality-challenged than dozens of similar fact-shy Hollywood biographies, and those Brontës really were a household of fascinating mental cases.* (Looking for dour realism?; try André Téchiné’s LES SOEURS BRONTË/’79.) You do need to accept soundstage exteriors subbing for Yorkshire Moors, but director Cutis Bernhardt builds up considerable interest on a B+ budget, with a fine Erich Wolfgang Korngold score and a first-rate cast tugging the streamlined narrative along. Only two of the sisters do much writing in this version (Ida Lupino’s Emily & Olivia de Havilland’s Charlotte), but many other details are not so much inaccurate as reorganized for dramatic flow. More sins of omission than sins of commission. Only Paul Henreid, as the new curate in town, sinks under the weight of double romantic duty to both sisters. (The real life character didn’t come on the scene till much later in Charlotte’s life.) And, no small thing, the film really does makes you want to go back to the wild, uncharted emotional world of the books. Or, at least, find a film version of WUTHERING HEIGHTS or JANE EYRE to fall into.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Fans of GONE WITH THE WIND/’39 will note that headstrong, full-bosomed Charlotte brings out the Scarlett O’Hara in de Havilland; while, by comparison, Lupino’s emotionally guarded Emily leans toward Melanie Wilkes, the role de Havilland actually played. (Not as crazy as it sounds when you imagine Margaret Mitchell swooning over those Brontë classics.)
READ ALL ABOUT IT: *Claire Harman’s CHARLOTTE BRONTË, covering the whole crazy-brilliant family, is being hailed as the new definitive bio.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Ready for release in 1943, Warners held back while de Havilland’s contract breaking court case (the same case Bette Davis lost in Britain) got under way. De Havilland won; then did the unthinkable by winning an Oscar® over at Paramount(!) for TO EACH HIS OWN/’45. So, when Warners finally released this in 1946 they visually demoted her in their advertising to what looked like a supporting role. Also note on our poster how Warners makes this period piece look like a contemporary meller. (See above)