Is the Emily Bronte film ‘Emily’ based on a true story?

The film about the famous author has hit UK cinemas

Emily based on a true story
(Image credit: Warner Bros)

Emily is the biopic exploring the life of Wuthering Heights author Emily Brontë, which has just hit UK cinemas. But many will be wondering, is Emily based on a true story?

Written and directed by Frances O'Connor, Emily was filmed in Yorkshire and landed in UK cinemas on 14 October. Speaking about the film, Frances said: "Emily Brontë’s writing is steeped in such passion, feeling, violence and fierce intelligence - that I’ve always yearned to know who she really was. Emily is about a rebel and misfit, a young woman daring to form herself, to embrace her true nature, despite the consequences."

With stars including Adrian Dunbar and Gemma Jones featuring in the film, it's set to be a big hit, following biopics such as Elvis and Blonde, which tells the story of Marilyn Monroe. But is Emily based on a true story? We share everything you need to know.

Is Emily based on a true story?

While Emily Brontë was a real person, the film Emily is not based on a true story, but rather imagines the life of the famous writer.

Emily Brontë is best known for her only novel, Wuthering Heights. Considered a rebel, Emily wrote her classic novel in secret because, as a woman living in 1847, professional writing was considered off-limits. The film explores the relationships that inspired her, from her passionate relationship with her writer sisters Charlotte (played by Alexandra Dowling) and Anne (played by Amelia Gething), to her first forbidden love for William Weightman (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen).

The official Warner Bros synopsis for Emily reads: "Emily tells the imagined life of one of the world’s most famous authors, Emily Brontë. The film stars Emma Mackey as Emily, a rebel and misfit, as she finds her voice and writes the literary classic Wuthering HeightsEmily explores the relationships that inspired her - her raw, passionate sisterhood with Charlotte and Anne; her first aching, forbidden love for Weightman and her care for her maverick brother whom she idolises."

And the film's writer and director Frances O'Connor said: "In creating an imagined life for her, I hope Emily Brontë will live again.” 

How did Emily Bronte die?

Emily Brontë died aged just 30 in December 1848, just one year after her novel, Wuthering Heights, was published.

Her brother, Branwell, had died suddenly in September 1848. At his funeral service a week later, Emily caught a severe cold that quickly developed into inflammation of the lungs and led to tuberculosis. It's thought that Emily's health was also weakened by the harsh local climate in Yorkshire and the unsanitary conditions at home.

Soon after the publication of her novel, Emily’s health began to rapidly decline. Her breathing became difficult and she suffered great pain and eventually died of tuberculosis. Emily had become so thin in the run up to her death, that her coffin measured only 16 inches wide.

Wuthering Heights paperback: View on Amazon

Wuthering Heights paperback: View on Amazon

RRP: £2.99 | Delivery: Next day/standard 

A masterpiece of English literature, Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, set in the West Yorkshire Moors.

Who plays Emily Bronte in Emily?

Emma Mackey plays the titular role of Emily Brontë in Emily. Emma has previously starred in Sex Education and Death on the Nile and is set to star in Greta Gerwig's Barbie, which hits cinemas in 2023.

Speaking about the role of Emily, Emma said: "Emily Brontë is such a strange person. But I'm protective of her – she is a gift of a woman to play. Emily is sometimes very still, but often wrestling with the elements, the landscape, and she feels and responds to things viscerally. I don't think you have to intellectualise her feelings or reactions – she is always instinctive."

She added: "Clearly, Emily Brontë and I are very different people, but what we do have in common is being a bit singular, wanting to tell stories and to be in control of them. I chose this film because it felt fresh, with a punchy script."

Emily based on a true story

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

Emily: Cast

  • Emma Mackey (Sex Education, Death on the Nile) Plays Emily Brontë
  • Oliver Jackson-Cohen (The Invisible Man, Faster) plays Weightman
  • Adrian Dunbar (Line of Duty) plays an as-yet unnamed role
  • Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) plays Branwell Brontë
  • Alexandra Dowling (Game of Thrones) plays Charlotte Brontë
  • Amelia Gething (The Spanish Princess) plays Anne Brontë
  • Sacha Parkinson (Coronation Street, Mr. Selfridge) plays Ellen Nussey
  • Gemma Jones (Sense and Sensibility, Bridget Jones's Diary) plays an as-yet unnamed role
  • Harry Anton (Ransom, Eastenders) plays Bill Heathcliff
  • Gerald Lepkowski (Game of Thrones) plays Linton
  • Philip Desmeules (The Hustle, Vanity Fair) plays Monsieur Heger
  • Elijah Wolf (T2 Trainspotting) plays Jo Heathcliff

Emily based on a true story

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

Emily: Film reviews

On review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, Emily currently has an impressive critic rating of 89%.

Clarisse Loughrey from The Independent said "Emily, pointedly, does not wallow in the misery we like to ascribe to her short and frequently tragic life. There is great buoyancy and humour in the film."

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian added "Had he lived to see it, this is a movie scene that I think Yorkshireman Ted Hughes would have loved. It is a real achievement for O’Connor."

However, Lillian Crawford from Empire Magazine was less impressed with the film, writing "If O’Connor’s aim was to recreate a British classic, she has surely failed to reach those lofty heights. Mackey shows further signs of promise, but she’ll be better off elsewhere."

Marya E. Gates of agreed, adding "O’Connor's debut is ambitious for sure, but with imagery ripped from countless better period set films, an overbearing score from Abel Korzeniowski, and an outdated way of pitting women against each other... Emily’s legacy deserves better than this."

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Robyn Morris
Entertainment writer - contributor

Robyn is a freelance celebrity journalist with ten years experience in the industry. While studying for a degree in Media and Cultural Studies at London College of Communication, she did internships at Now and Heat magazines. After graduating, she landed a job at Star magazine, where she worked her way up to features editor. She then worked at Future as Deputy Celebrity Content Director across Woman, Woman’s Own, Woman’s Weekly and Woman & Home magazines.