A gem amongst a disappointing offering of festive television, To Walk Invisible depicts a gritty and sincere snapshot into the brief lives and careers of the Bronte sisters. Acclaimed writer Sally Wainwright’s latest offering has all the hallmarks of her previous works. Fans of Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax will recognise Wainwright’s unique take on the portrayal of the domestic drama, and her latest work as bleak and candid as its predecessors. To Walk Invisible tells not just the story of the Brontë sisters’ venture into writing, but the arguably more compelling narrative of their struggle supporting their alcoholic brother Branwell.
The two-hour period drama offers a bleak glimpse into a pivotal time for Emily, Charlotte and Anne. After discovering each of them harbours personal poems and stories, they band together to attempt to publish their work under the male pseudonyms Ellis, Currer and Acton Bell. Alongside this endeavour, the sisters home life revolves around accommodating Branwell’s addiction. This tragic narrative is best expressed in Chloe Pirrie’s fiery portrayal of Emily Bronte. Her anguish and resilient sympathy for Branwell bring a depth to the drama, in which Wainwright presents an honest insight into the Brontës life.
Wainwright, who directed and co-produced as well as wrote this biopic has stated her desire to present a realistic depiction, as opposed to what she calls the ‘chocolate box world’ so often imagined in the genre of period drama. It is this distinction which makes To Walk Invisible so engaging and immensely believable. The desire for authenticity extended to the location and weather conditions when filming. Wainwright spoke of her wish to ‘recreate the isolation of the house, on the edge of the village and looking out at that very important landscape’, adding ‘all the weather you see is real – it was a pretty arduous shoot’. The sweeping Yorkshire moors and overhanging gloomy sky place the reimagined story in a very real setting. Wainwright commented, ‘it does add something to the quality of the drama if you’ve got a beautiful landscape that reflects the tone and the mood of the show, especially as Emily was hugely affected by the landscape, it was good to be able to reflect that. It can be bleak as well, which I like’.
To Walk Invisible owes its success to Wainwright’s attention to detail. As a visitor of Haworth and the Bronte parsonage, I was fully convinced that the setting reflected the idyllic landscape, and immediately investigated whether the filming took place within the actual Brontë house. Understandably, it did not, but the replication achieved in the filming is impressive, and really enhances the ingenuity of the drama. The conviction which Finn Atkins, Chloe Pirrie and Charlie Murphy bring to the roles of Charlotte, Emily and Anne respectively is brilliant, and their adoption of rural Yorkshire accents is faultless. If you’re looking for a two-hour escape into a very believable account of a pivotal time in the Brontë’s life, To Walk Invisible is definitely worth a watch.