Coming up this Sunday, March 26 at 9 p.m., Masterpiece presents To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters, written and directed by Sally Wainwright. The two-hour BBC drama traces the lives of the Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë from dutiful daughters into audacious authors. To Walk Invisible was filmed in and around Haworth, the Yorkshire village where the Brontës lived; a replica of their home, the Parsonage, was created for filming on location last year, as A. N. Devers reported in our summer 2016 feature story, "A Breath of Jane Eyre."
Based largely on Charlotte's letters--which are artfully read throughout--To Walk Invisible focuses on the three-year period in the mid-1840s when the women decided to move ahead with the publication of their collective poems. The drama's title comes from one of these letters, in which Charlotte writes, "I think if a good fairy were to offer me the choice of a gift, I would say--grant me the power to walk invisible." Their Poems appeared in 1846 (under the male pseudonyms, Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell), closely followed in 1847 by their individual novels--Charlotte's Jane Eyre as a stand-alone, and Emily's Wuthering Heights bundled into three volumes with Anne's Agnes Grey.
In this dramatic retelling of their story, Anne and Branwell are restored to the bigger picture; Anne being the sweetest sibling, Branwell being the wildest. Emily, played by Chloe Pirrie, is matter of fact and unafraid to stand up to her devilish brother. She is also quite wonderful in disrupting a cozy library scene when she accuses Charlotte of reading her poems without permission. Charlotte (Finn Atkins) is more severe than we might imagine her. She is also the mastermind of their literary futures.
Historical dramas too often bait viewers with pretty gowns and lush landscapes, so it's refreshing here to see some realism both in content (Branwell's abusive alcoholism), scenery (from dirty interior walls to muddy outside lanes), and costumes that are plain and true to the people wearing them. The moors are there too, don't worry. Viewer's tip: The tones are hushed in many scenes, so turn up the volume.
PBS granted a press preview to Fine Books for this post. Watch a 30-second clip here.
An exhibit, To Walk Invisible: From Parsonage to Production, is currently on view at the Parsonage through January 1, 2018.
Image: Pictured (from left to right) Emily Brontë (Chloe Pirrie), Anne Brontë (Charlie Murphy), and Charlotte Brontë (Finn Atkins). Credit: Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE.