…wasn’t the name of the new drama about the Brontes, (To Walk Invisible) but it might as well have been. Being a Bronte fan and having visited the parsonage in Haworth on several occasions, I was really looking forward to the new drama by Sally Wainwright – but I was bitterly disappointed.
First there was the sound quality, which seems to be a common problem with modern TV productions. The dialogue was virtually inaudible at times without turning the volume so high that the incidental music and more dramatic scenes became unbearably loud.
But that is the least of my gripes. This simply wasn’t the Brontes that I ‘know’, especially the permanently sour-faced Charlotte and the pugnacious Emily, who at one point squared up to Branwell and threatened to take him outside for a punch-up.
To me the accents were all wrong. Patrick, the father, was Irish. Jonathan Pryce is one of our best actors but I’ve no idea what his accent was supposed to be, and it certainly didn’t sound Irish. In this drama,the Bronte children all spoke with working class Yorkshire accents, which I believe is highly unlikely. It sounded like Coronation Street in period costume (yes, I know Coronation Street is Lancashire – but you know what I mean). The Bronte sisters may have spoken in a slightly more ‘proper’ or middle class Yorkshire accent – but there is written evidence from someone who met her that Charlotte spoke with a distinct Irish accent like her father, at least when she was younger. The Brontes famously didn’t mix with the local children, and I find it hard to believe that they would have lost their Irishness and adopted ‘Ee by gum’ accents, especially to that extent. I’ve read about how painstakingly they reproduced the parsonage, so I’m really surprised they got such a important feature wrong.
Plot-wise, this was really the Branwell Bronte story with the girls coming up on the rails towards the end, and their publishing successes hastily summed up in a couple of paragraphs of text before the end credits. Branwell’s story has plenty of drama, but surely most viewers wanted to know about the more famous and accomplished sisters? Why, for example, wasn’t it set in the twelve month period when Charlotte lost all of her siblings one by one – surely a time ripe for a poignant and powerful story?
The sisters’ ‘story’ was really successive chunks or soundbites of them in intense and earnest discussions, as if that’s what their whole lives were like. It was like a succession of trailers for a longer film. Branwell’s was the only real ‘story’.
The period feel was great, and the attention to physical detail was amazing – I actually thought they’d filmed it in the parsonage until I read about how they recreated it.
But I’ll stick with ‘my’ Brontes – not saintly, not without fault, but certainly not the dour, pugnacious miseries portrayed in To Walk Invisible.