Acorn Media // 1973 // 260 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // March 2nd, 2012
The dramatic lives of the literary legends.
They remain one of the most amazing families in all of literature. Consider the fact that sisters Emily and Charlotte created the high school student's nightmare duo of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, respectively. Or what about sister Anne, who contributed lesser works such as Agnes Gray and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Of the six Bronte children, three became noted for their writing and reclusive social skills. The others -- Maria (who died at 11), Elizabeth (who also passed away young, at age 10) and Bramwell would become familial footnotes in light of their siblings' accomplishments. So leave it to the Brits to celebrate their most complicated cultural clan with a five part mini-series focusing almost exclusively on the dynamic between the remaining children and less about their various artistic accomplishments. With Bramwell bearing the brunt of the narrative drive, The Brontes of Haworth (first offered on English television in 1973) becomes an eye-opening drama of definite Masterpiece Theater pleasures.
Tragedy clouds this well-told tale, as patriarch Patrick Bronte (Alfred Burke, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) must help his children get over the passing of the beloved Maria. Steeped in religion and the superstitions of the era, the brood ends up locked away in a world of their own creation. The main trio tantalizes each other with stories and secrets. Charlotte (Vickery Turner, Prudence and the Pill) Anne (Ann Penfold, Eastenders) and Emily (Rosemary McHale, Midsomer Murders) pursue romanticized writing, while brother Bramwell (Michael Kitchen, Out of Africa) turns toward more earthly pursuits. The episodes that make up this over-four-hour experience include "The Little King," "Home and Abroad," "Delusion's Song," "Rewarding Destiny," and "Silent Is the House." Each spends time dealing with the personalities of the particular family members, as well as their eventual fame/fate at the hands of their own internal muse.
Because it avoids the typical biopic ideals that would come to sink the genre sometime in the mid-'80s, and thanks to a level of acting and period authenticity unmatched by similar-minded productions, The Brontes of Haworth makes for an intriguing viewing experience. While liberties are taken with the material (things are just too pretty and prosaic to be wholly authentic), the script by noted poet and playwright Christopher Fry never hits a wrong note. Instead, we become lost in this forgotten era, wondering what will happen even as our college literature classes remind us of the facts. Even better, Bramwell ends up taking center stage, his inability to cope becoming a legacy that ends up staining the entire Bronte family. Indeed, one of the things we learn during the course of this engaging effort is the high cost of social awkwardness. Because they are sheltered, because they are totally unprepared to face the real world, their interactions with same doom the Brontes toward an end both tragic and telling. While one wonders about the effect such isolation really did have on the family, the miniseries that resulted offers a highly entertaining explanation.
Since it is so old and little has been done to remaster it, it's shocking how good The Brontes of Haworth looks on DVD. The 1.33:1 image is colorful, clean, and loaded with detail. Yes, there are still flaws, especially with the transfer from old videotape, but overall the picture looks terrific. Similarly, the thin and reedy Dolby Digital Stereo mix exposes a few flaws in the production. The sets clearly offer little in the way of acoustical support and dialogue often bounces off the hallow walls. As for added content, we get a text-based overview of the family. That's it. Much of the information is covered in the miniseries proper.
While it may sound like your worst graduate student exam question come true, The Brontes of Haworth is actually a very well mounted and quite moving production. Those who desire a more comprehensive overview on the famous writers and their relatives may have to rely on known history. This narrative focus more on the people, not their product, resulting in a far richer and more resonate experience.
Not Guilty. A very good dramatic overview of the Bronte mythos.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 260 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Text Bio