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Film Talk: Latest Movie Releases – Brontë biopic fun with shining star of Netflix smash

It’s weird to think that before 2019, few people would have been aware of a particularly powerful talent that over the next couple of years was destined to shine more brightly than anything the biz had been blessed with in an age.

Created by Laurie Nunn, Netflix super-smash Sex Education was something pretty special, unapologetically giving an honest voice to issues of intimacy, identity and sexual anxiety experienced by a huge number of young people. It did this with a perfect blend of humour, heart and intelligence that was spearheaded superbly by one of the most fantastic casts of young actors telly has ever seen. And here, ladies and gentlemen, entered our star.

In the role of the clever, tough but troubled Maeve Willey, French-British actor Emma Mackey wowed audiences across the world, captivating viewers with the complexity, soul and attitude she brought to this many-layered protagonist, and proving she was a force to be reckoned with.

Since Sex Education landed, Mackey has enjoyed film roles in 2021’s Eiffel, and, of course, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. Yet now, for the first time, she is hitting the silver screen as a bona fide leading lady in Frances O’Connor’s Emily.

A biographical drama that sees Mackey holding the fabled quill of the second Brontë sister, audiences across the land are set to enjoy an outstanding performance from a star whose ascension is thoroughly deserved and will surely continue. Not only that, this one packs in simmering sibling rivalry and period drama passion to the rafters. Tick, tick and tick – time to get to the moors for a closer look...

EMILY (15, 130 mins)

Released: October 14 (UK & Ireland)

In front of the camera, actress Frances O’Connor has endured her fair share of period drama and comedy pains as Fanny Price in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Gwendolen Fairfax in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest and the spirited title character of a two-part TV adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

For her impressive feature film directorial debut, O’Connor romanticises and humanises one of 19th-century English literature’s brightest lights, Emily Bronte, who only published one novel, Wuthering Heights, a year before her death from tuberculosis aged 30.

Emily abandons the rigid constraints of a traditional biopic to corrupt timelines and invent a scandalous dalliance between the writer and a curate as the template for the turbulent romance between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff.

Reactions of characters to Emily’s work mirror polarised opinions of the era: younger sibling Anne acknowledges a masterpiece but older sister Charlotte dismisses the writing as “ugly” and the guilt-ridden clergyman laments: “There is something ungodly in your writing.”

There is something delicate and beautiful in O’Connor’s screenwriting, which deftly navigates painful dynamics within the Bronte family through the eyes of a socially awkward loner, who is cruelly nicknamed The Strange One by residents of Haworth.

Her defiant, outsider status threatens to bring shame on the household, creating friction between Emily and her kin.

“I won’t let you drag me down!” spits Charlotte during one heated exchange.

In response, Emily embraces the motto etched on her brother Branwell’s arm – Freedom in thought – and gradually accepts her individuality as a badge of honour to be embroidered on her bosom.

Emily (Emma Mackey) yearns to win the respect of her father, Irish Anglican priest Patrick Bronte (Adrian Dunbar), but his praise is reserved for her sister Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling) and brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead).

She is assigned French lessons with the new parish curate, William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and an initially combative relationship kindles forbidden desire that tests his faith and resolve to breaking point.

Youngest child Anne (Amelia Gething) witnesses deep fissures between family members as Emily inherits Branwell’s casual relationship with opium and unstoppers her emotions so they cascade over ink-filled parchment.

Anchored by a terrific central performance from Mackey, who captures the writer’s manifold contradictions, Emily is an unconventional character study that employs handheld camerawork to catalyse a feeling of intimacy with the Brontes.

Cinematographer Nanu Segal rejects a chocolate box colour palette for earthy browns and greens to capture the rugged beauty of rain-lashed 1840s West Yorkshire.

“I’ve always been beyond your comprehension and I always will be,” coos the conflicted protagonist.

O’Connor’s picture understands Emily Jane Bronte very well.

LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE (PG, 106 mins)

Released: October 14 (UK & Ireland)

Javier Bardem as Hector P Valenti in Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile

Award-winning Canadian pop star Shawn Mendes provides the singing voice of a soulful, bath-loving reptile in a family-friendly musical comedy based on the best-selling book series by Bernard Waber.

Snappily directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile melds live action and cutesy digital effects a la Paddington and Alvin And The Chipmunks to extend the concept of a modern family to all creatures great, small and scaly.

Wholesome messages of love and acceptance are underlined with an upbeat soundtrack of original songs penned by The Greatest Showman’s ringmasters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Compared to the duo’s exemplary work on La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen, the songbook here feels a tad derivative but the rousing duet Take A Look At Us Now still gets toes tapping and Top Of The World co-written by Joriah Kwame reaches for the stars in its exultant chorus.

The eponymous semiaquatic hero with a jaunty red scarf gels convincingly with teenage co-star Winslow Fegley and they are formidable when scriptwriter William Davies switches gears from slapstick to heartstring-tugging emotion for a courtroom showdown with only one outcome.

Simplistic storytelling and speedy conflict resolution should play well to younger audiences.

Javier Bardem turns on the razzle dazzle as a charismatic magician with a hat full of debts while Brett Gelman visibly savours his pantomime antagonist, gleefully stroking a sour-faced pet pussy like a Bond villain as he prepares to telephone animal welfare and consign Lyle to the reptile house of a local zoo.

All together now, booooo!

Mr and Mrs Primm (Scoot McNairy, Constance Wu) move to New York City with their exceedingly anxious son Josh (Fegley).

The youngster struggles to fit in at his new school, where classmates including Kara (Lyric Hurd) chase fame on social media in the hope of appearing on hit TV talent search, Show Us What You Got.

Josh gains new confidence and purpose when he encounters Lyle (Mendes), the singing crocodile who lives in the attic of their three-storey brownstone, once owned by conjurer Hector P Valenti (Bardem).

The shy, sensitive reptile is warmly welcomed by the Primms but scheming downstairs neighbour Mr Grumps (Gelman) and his cat Loretta, a silver-shaded Persian with a delicate constitution, are constantly watching the neighbourhood through CCTV cameras.

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile dances to a familiar beat and the silky vocals of Mendes, encouraging us to shuffle in our seats as characters overcome self-doubt through their newfound love of one of nature’s fearsome predators.

HALLOWEEN ENDS (18, 111 mins)

Released: October 14 (UK & Ireland)

Halloween Ends: Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode

Scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis completes her tour of duty as Laurie Strode in the concluding chapter of director David Gordon Green’s trilogy reboot of the Halloween franchise.

Set four years after the events of Halloween Kills, this bloodthirsty slasher forces the gutsy heroine to face the hulking bogeyman who has stalked the Illinois town of Haddonfield for generations.

Laurie lives with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), filling her time by writing a memoir that will finally lay to rest the ghost of her tormentor, Michael Myers.

The Strode matriarch is embracing life rather than living in fear, unshackled from her tragic past.

The nightmare resurfaces when teenager Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell) is accused of murdering a child while he babysat.

Corey pleads innocence and Laurie acknowledges that the time has come to face her greatest fear, reuniting her with Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton).

ALL THAT BREATHES (12A, 94 mins)

Released: October 14 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Documentary filmmaker Shaunak Sen explores inter-species coexistence during a period of heightened environmental concern by travelling to one of the world’s most populated cities.

Siblings Nadeem and Saud live in New Delhi and share a love of black kites, a bird of prey which is integral to the local ecosystem.

These majestic creatures have been falling from the skies at an alarming rate, symbolic casualties of poor air quality and social unrest. In a makeshift avian basement hospital, the Muslim brothers nurse the birds back to full health and return the kites to the sky.

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