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Film Review: To Walk Invisible (2016)

To Walk Invisible, Sally Wainwright’s film about the Bronte family starts off like Harry Potter, all sorcery and goblets of fire, but thereafter goes downhill faster than the slippery slope upon which the Haworth parsonage sits.

Featuring a cast of actresses who never truly convince as a trio of sisterly creative geniuses and a foul-mouthed brother (three 'fucks' and one 'twat') fighting a losing battle to come to grips with a west Yorkshire accent, casting is definitely not a strong point. By ‘eck this ‘alifax accent is reet ‘ard.

Some gravitas is achieved with the appearance of Jonathan Pryce as Patrick Bronte, but Mr Pryce is scandalously under-used. And what of Mrs Bronte? Invisible. Not even mentioned in passing. Dead and presumably forgotten.

It’s a curious concoction this, rather like a grade C answer at A level – demonstrating a superficial understanding of the plot and character but lacking any kind of detail or meaningful analysis… One instinctively feels that rather than reading for example Mrs Gaskell’s superb biography of Charlotte Bronte, Wainwright has opted for The Brontes for Dummies…

In a script that never really seems to know where it is going and what it is trying to achieve, there are a plethora of loose strands floating around on the desolate Yorkshire moors.

Not only this, but the film breaks the golden rule of drama with impunity: It tells where it really ought to show. Hence, we are told everything about Charlotte’s dalliance with a French monsieur. We are also told all about Branwell’s own dalliance with a certain older, married woman, Mrs Robinson.

Oh yes lots of telling but little showing – apart form a bizarre scene where said Mrs R is being rogered on a chaise longue by person (or persons) unknown in what turns out to be a Branwell wet dream.

At one point Charlotte declares that she has toyed with writing something about Brussels. Oh no I thought, not more pro-EU BBC propaganda. I half expected to hear a speech praising its common agricultural policy while warning of the dangers of ‘populism’. I mean I wouldn’t put it past them.

Frankly the whole thing is a bit of a mess. The film never truly manages to develop any of its themes beyond the superficial: Branwell’s woes are never examined in any kind of depth, not least the acute sense of artistic failure that dogged him throughout his short life. Yes, he really was an artist, Sally.

Among many strands to disappear as quickly as they surface is Mr Bronte’s visit to an ophthalmic surgeon. Thereafter nothing about the ground-breaking operation the reverend undertook for cataract removal – without anaesthesia! Talk about an open goal...

One of the many problems with this film is its lack of a unifying vision. Is this a film about Branwell’s tragedy? Or is it simply a Bronte family biopic? Is it perhaps a film concerned with the creative process? Family bonds? Emancipation? Addiction? Yorkshire Pudding?

Wainwright’s script is never really sure in which direction it wishes to travel and hence after a while it all starts to feel rather ad-hoc. And that vernacular... more Emmerdale soap slang than middle class Victorian.

All of which just goes to show you can throw copious amounts of money at a film, use authentic settings such as the Haworth parsonage, but without a decent script you’re well and truly sunk. To be honest this is little more than a fan film, an exercise in paying homage to your fave author and books.

Choosing to end the film in present day Haworth is a transition as jerky as it is unnecessary. While such jumps might work in a Schindler's List or a Titanic, there's a very good reason behind such decisions: poignancy - a reminder that the dreadful events portrayed on screen actually happened.

The sudden juxtaposition to modern day Howarth in this film seems done purely on whim, an ill-judged attempt at poignancy that rather falls flat on its face. Yes, we all know there's a gift shop at the parsonage - what we didn't need was a guided tour around the ruddy place!!

To Walk Invisible is a film desperately searching for an identity. If this film proves anything at all, it proves beyond all question of doubt you really shouldn’t try to polish turds.

As insipid as it gets, frankly the humane course of action act might well have been to have drowned this accursed script at birth. Nice video, shame about the song.