To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters is a look into the Brontë family life during the time when the three Brontë sisters – Charlotte, Emily and Anne – began publishing their writing. It was also the time when their brother Branwell’s drinking and profligate ways brought disaster to their home life.
Finn Atkins plays Charlotte, Charlie Murphy is Anne, and Chloe Pirrie plays Emily. Branwell is played by Adam Nagaitis. Their father, Patrick is played by Jonathan Pryce. All 5 of them did outstanding work.
Because of their father’s failing eyesight and their brother’s inability to control his drinking, the Brontë sisters decided to publish their writing. They knew they had to find a way to be self supporting. They assumed names that sounded male in order to “walk invisible.” (Women would not be welcomed in publishing.) First they published a small volume of poetry to give themselves credibility. Two copies sold!
Then they mailed off work including “Jane Eyre,” and “Wuthering Heights.” The commercial success of these novels was immediate. The sisters were set for the future in terms of money. But in terms of the turmoil Branwell brought home with him, there was no peace or respite.
My description of the facts of the story does nothing to give you a sense of the drama, intrigue, and fierce will-power that characterized the sisters and their lives. Written and directed by Sally Wainwright, To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters was a fascinating insight into the all too human lives of some of the greatest writers in the English language.
Each of the characters were so vivid and real, the whole family came alive. The settings in Haworth, West Yorkshire and other locations were authentic looking. The streets, the stores, the moors, the interior of the house, the London grime and smog – it was spot on.
One of my favorite scenes was Charlotte marching through the rainy streets to mail off her handwritten copy of “Jane Eyre” to a potential publisher. Her only copy. Imagine. Another was Emily and Anne out walking on the moors when Emily recited a poem of hers about courage. And I loved the scene where Charlotte wrote the first sentence of “Jane Eyre.” Gave me goosebumps.
Branwell died in September 1848. By May 1849, both Emily and Anne died of tuberculosis. Charlotte survived until 1855 and wrote several more novels. The film To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters ended with Branwell’s death. The other information was appended to the film as part of a brief tour of the museum in The Brontë Parsonage Museum located in the former family home in Haworth.
Here’s a full scene from the film. It’s a perfect example of the genius of writer Sally Wainwright’s dialog.
Here’s a bit of a preview mixed with interviews with Sally Wainwright and the actors, including bits of the scene you just watched.
In the UK the film was on BBC One. In the US, it’s currently available on PBS. You can watch it in full at pbs.org.