The Brontës of Haworth

 

The Brontës of Haworth

Written by Christopher Fry

Photography by Brian C. Wilson

Production Design by Alan Pickford

Costume Design by Brian Castle

Music by Wilfred Josephs

Produced and Directed by Marc Miller

First aired in the U.K. in 1973

 

Cast:

Michael Kitchen as Branwell Brontë

Vickery Turner as Charlotte Brontë

Ann Penfold as Anne Brontë

Rosemary McHale as Emily Brontë

Alfred Burke as Reverend Patrick Brontë

Sheila Raynor as Tabitha Aykroyd

Benjamin Whitrow as Arthur Bell Nicholls

Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Mrs Gaskell

  

Production:

Television: Yorkshire Television

Video: Acorn Media

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 480i

Codec: MPEG-2

Total Runtime: 250 min.

Number of Episodes: 5

Typical number of chapters/episode: 6

Average Episode Runtime: (50 min.)

Region Code: 1

 

Audio:

English Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Subtitles:

English SDH

 

Extras

Hayworth Parsonage

 

Presentation:

2 discs in single clamshell case

Street date: February 7, 2012



The Series:  9

The writer, Christopher Fry (The Lady’s Not for Burning), relies on a marvelously clever device of having as the narrator the character of Elizabeth Gaskell, known to many simply as “Mrs Gaskell,” the author of Cranford and a posthumous biography of Charlotte Brontë, of whose work Gaskell was an ardent admirer, and vice-versa, Charlotte being just a few years her junior.  All the Brontë sisters died young, the oldest, Charlotte, was only 39 when she died, years longer than any of her sisters. Fry relies on Gaskell’s biography and borrows from it liberally – and why not: Gaskell (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) is speaking to us as if she were reading from her book to her own children.

 

Fry, through Gaskell (or is it the other way round?) introduces us to the small village of Haworth and to its observing, if reserved, pastor: the Reverend Patrick Brontë (Alfred Burke).  After a brief dalliance with the siblings as young children, when their imagination is piqued by collaborative, literate play, we find the family bereft of their mother and two sisters that never made it to adulthood that makes its mark on what was until then a bucolic scene.


           

 

The remaining siblings are close, but as Branwell embraces youthful adulthood (Michael Kitchen – so young and frenetic he is hardly recognizable) we see how his ideals and expectations are at odds with what life outside of Haworth actually offers.  Cowed by it all, abetted by a palpable lack of confidence, he falls into a desultory life.  The artist and poet in him never achieve the fame or fortune granted his sisters.  Alcohol, opium and tuberculosis did their part to bring whatever potential he may have had to an early end.

 

For their part, Charlotte (Vickery Turner), Emily (Rosemary McHale) and Anne (Ann Penfold), who are very close and supportive with each other as well as with their brother, are, each in their own way, equally headstrong and just as easily disappointed, but not nearly as discouraged.  Even though they need to make their own way, the fact that they are women actually works in their favor in a roundabout way, since their expectations of themselves are not as great as their brother’s was of his. And they have the good fortune of not having taken to drink or opium.


            

 

With Branwell emotionally crippled, the sisters are left to fend for themselves.  They have their writing, though they publish under masculine pseudonyms, as was customary for female writers.  The great novels arrive with little fanfare across the last three episodes, but with their biographical antecedents understood: Jane Eyre (Charlotte), Wuthering Heights (Emily), Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfelld Hall (Anne).  The sisters are all humorless creatures, unless you count Charlotte’s pointed cynicism, which serves to keep her out of touch with her own longings and makes her lack of posthumous support for Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfelld Hall possible. 

 

Writer Christopher Fry makes frequent uses of an epistolary style, common in literary works of the period, to tell his story, and emphasizes that nineteenth century trait of woeful romanticism which director Marc Miller reinforces in his bleak lighting and cramped framing.  My favorite idea of his is to have the sisters circle about their room in thoughtful conversation.  These scenes are usually shot in high angle, lending a ritualistic, prayerful, meditative air to the proceedings. If you didn’t already know, things end badly for all concerned – everyone but us, for we have their novels.


            

 

Image: 5/3

I want to believe that The Brontës of Haworth has seen better days – but perhaps not. There’s really no way to tell for sure.  We can see that Acorn Media, for its part does not get in the way of its realization onto DVD as there are no transfer artifacts to speak of aside from a mild degree of edge enhancement.  I also cannot tell to what extent the picture was originally filtered (it leans strongly to reddish-brown) or if it has simply lost color. 


Considering the subject, desaturation is sensible, but I suspect some degeneration since some (not much) of the footage has the appearance of being overexposed, which isn’t likely to have been a deliberate production decision.  What survives is reasonably sharp, especially in close up or when the camera is still, but lacks contrast in some of the darker scenes and detail in the lighter scenes.  Quite frankly, the series looks better when viewed monochromatically.


            

  

Audio & Music: 4/7

Attending to the audio was a curious experience.  The dialogue seemed murky while I watched it but seemed clear enough when I closed my eyes, which suggests that what we see influences how we hear.  This shouldn’t surprise me since many years ago when I would watch video on a 13-inch TV but played the audio through a very good hi-fi, the picture seemed to be larger because of the size, clarity and dynamic response of the audio.  The reverse applies here. 

 

Once I was convinced that the dialogue was clear enough to not require subtitles (after first closing my eyes), I turned them off (the subtitles, not my eyes), and all was well, after the first two episodes anyway. There is a snatch of perhaps ten seconds in the first episode where the level slides down into near inaudibility and a couple of instances in the second episode where the level is so high as to be unpleasant.  Barbara Leigh-Hunt’s voiceover, which rightfully had some added ambience, was muddier to start with but became clear after the first episode.  As needed, Acorn supplies subtitles, and in a proper white font.


            

 

Extras: 1

The lone Bonus Feature is a brief text about the Brontës and the Parsonage Museum.

 

Recommendation: 7

The play is the thing here, once you get past the drab visuals and dodgy audio earlier on – and a very fine play it is.  Recommended, with caveats.



            

 

  


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

February 11, 2012


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