TV Drama Review: To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters

Summary

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë secretly harbor dreams of publishing their stories.  However, writing, they have been told, is not the life for a woman.  Unfortunately, their brother Branwell is slowly descending into a life of degeneracy and madness, and their father is aging and blind.  Faced with the prospect of having to support themselves, the sisters hatch a plan to publish their work under pseudonyms.

Review

Based on Charlotte Brontë’s letters, To Walk Invisible highlights the struggles the Brontë sisters faced as women writing in nineteenth century England.  To publish would be, as Emily notes, to expose their characters–rather than their writing– for public judgment and scrutiny.  They realize that in order to be taken seriously, they must publish under male pseudonyms.  And thus begins two hours’ worth of dramatic whispering and sneaking about their own home.

Some of this sneaking about seems funnily obsessive considering the fact that their brother Branwell is often away or too drunk to be cognizant of anything happening around them and that their father Patrick never shows any desire to stifle his daughters’ creativity.  What exactly are they hiding and from whom?  Maybe the sisters fear one of their two servants will gossip?  At any rate, the show really works to play up the drama of the situation, perhaps realizing that it is difficult to make three sisters living in isolation on the moor a very action-packed story.

However, anyone willing to watch a two-hour drama on Masterpiece about the Brontë sisters is probably already invested in the work and will not need the high stakes to be so obviously emphasized.  The show does a nice job recognizing the fan base by bringing in some historical details and nods (such as Charlotte’s awkward future husband) and highlighting the personalities of the three sisters: wild Emily, level-headed Anne, and passionate Charlotte.  The effects of the moor on the sisters’ personalities (especially Emily’s) is also predictably emphasized through a series of long walks throughout, and some readings of Emily’s poetry are brought in at strategic moments.

Unfortunately, Branwell Brontë also makes an extended appearance, but he adds little to the story.  Brontë fans know of the sister’s hapless brother who died before he could fulfill all the great things expected of him.  He certainly has a place in the story of the sisters’ lives.   However, the sisters’ efforts at publication are far more compelling than Branwell’s debauchery.  No one expects Branwell to give up his drink, to become suddenly responsible, or to publish all the great works he says he will.  His wild lifestyle probably is meant to contrast with the sisters’ quiet lives and to add some more action to the story.  However, I don’t think many viewers are particularly interested in Branwell and it’s certainly difficult to be invested in him when it’s obvious from the start (from history or the drama) how he will end.

To Walk Invisible is a compelling story, but one that I suspect will mostly interest viewers who are already fans of the Brontë sisters, though it’s also possible that the drama will introduce new audiences to their works.  (Anne Brontë is, I would argue, still unfortunately overlooked in favor of her sisters.)   It’s an intimate glimpse at the lives of the Brontës full of fun historical nods that fans will love to spot.  I just wish we had seen far less of Branwell.

4 stars

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21 thoughts on “TV Drama Review: To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters

  1. Emily | Rose Read says:

    Great review! I enjoyed it, but I didn’t know really what to expect going in – I wasn’t even sure if it was a drama or a documentary, I juat heard PBS and Bronte and I was in lol. Who was Charlotte’s future husband?

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  2. Jillian says:

    I thought the part with Branwell in it really added to the story, because they were pretty much on their own. They couldn’t count on him to do anything to support them after their father died (& of course they couldn’t have known their father would outlive them all.)

    The film shows how much they all had to support Branwell.

    (I LOVED the portrayal of Emily. I also liked Emily. The depicyion of Charlotte seemed a bit stern, but I love the moment with her publisher when he figures out she really is Currer Bell.)

    You made me chuckle with your remarks on all the sneaking around. Ha ha. True enough. I read that Charlotte used to hide whenever someone knocked on the door, so maybe they really were that jumpy. 🙂

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  3. majoringinliterature says:

    Great review! I’ve yet to watch it, but I’m really interested to see how they brought the Brontës to the screen. Judging by your review, I’m glad to see they didn’t feel the need to spice up their life story with too many speculative romances, as films about other famous female writers (cough Jane Austen cough) always seem to do!

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  4. Lost In A Good Book says:

    I thought that all the sneaking around was indicative of living in a household with an abusive alcoholic family member. The family secret is always of utmost importance in those situations, regardless of the fact that everyone (including the other family members) already knows exactly what is going on.

    I think my favorite scene was when the publisher had his “oh crap! I’m talking to Jane Eyre!” moment. I loved it so much. She was unmistakable, and finally received the recognition she really wanted.

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  5. luvtoread says:

    Great review! I enjoyed the movie, but had trouble hearing & understanding the girls at times. It seemed like there were issues with the sound.
    I totally agree about Branwell. Before I watched it, my mom watched it and texted me that she was irritated that a movie supposedly about the Bronte sisters seemed to be more about Branwell! Maybe they should’ve spun this as a movie about the Bronte family, rather than just the sisters. There were parts of Branwell’s story I didn’t need to see and thought were odd choices for the movie (like sitting on a chamber pot. no one needs to see that!).
    You make a great point about all the sneaking around the house. I didn’t understand that, either.
    The movie did make me want to re-read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and read other works that the sisters wrote.

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    • Krysta says:

      I had to put the captions on because I couldn’t hear them, either!

      Yeah I get that Branwell was influential on the sisters’ work, but he’s drunk. We get it. How many times do we have to see him stumble down the road or pass out before we get the idea that he’s never going to write his great novel?

      Me, too! I was thinking I might reread Agnes Grey sometime to start. I remember reading it years ago and liking it! (It’s also short! I love Villette, but what a time commitment!)

      Liked by 1 person

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