Sunday, 29 January 2017

To Walk Invisible

Jonathan Pryce, Finn Atkins, Adam Nagaitis, Chloe Pirrie and Charlie Murphy with contemporary images of Emily

Where the wild wind blows on the mountainside

One of my favourite programmes over the 2016/17 New Year period was the Sally Wainwright-penned snippet of “Brontëana” To Walk Invisible. It was a treat to see the location-shooting (some sets were built on Penistone Hill, not far from Haworth, and the costumes and set dressing were impeccable.) The actors were uniformly strong:
  • Charlotte, determined, industrious and judgmental: Finn Atkins 
  • Emily, fierce, private and funny: Chloe Pirrie 
  • Anne, generous, peace-loving and wise: Charlie Murphy 
  • Branwell, disappointed, frustrated and self-sabotaging: Adam Nagaitis 
  • Reverend Patrick Brontë, stoical, dignified and proud of his daughters: Jonathan Pryce
Moors above Haworth
Blazing imagination
What I found most impressive about the production was the selection of detail, given the amount that could have been included. I think Sally Wainwright’s script had a distinctive “take” which captured less mythologised aspects of Haworth’s famous inhabitants:
  • the blazing childhood imaginations run riot
  • the importance on Anne and Branwell of the Robinson household at Thorp Green Hall
  • the focus on the three years of reunion (1845 – 1848) which brought the remaining family together after various working excusions
  • the shocking impact on the whole family of Branwell’s complicated demons, petulant behaviour and fatal illness
  • the believable relationships between father and offspring, between Emily and Branwell, between the sisters 
  • the distinctive qualities of each member of the family
  • the palpable presence of the Brontë neighbours, servants and friends
  • the comic thrill and awe of Currer and Acton turning up at George Smith’s office in London
New Year's Eve 2016 with Michael, Janet and Alex walking to Top Withins

Emily Brontë’s undated untitled poetry

I’ve quoted from the following stanzas before (here, in July 2016) but I thought I’d put the whole sequence down in celebration of To Walk Invisible, in tribute to the glories of the Yorkshire moors and in memory of what I did in the hours before the Murder Mystery Game Death by Chocolate. Wherever I go, whatever I do and whatever happens after I am long gone, the moors above Haworth will remain. I’ve already recorded that it’s one of the best places I know to blow away cobwebs and get perspective. In her stanzas about walking, Emily Brontë makes the point that walking is the place to leave behind “busy chase of wealth and learning” and she goes where her instincts take her, to a place where you can see Heaven and Hell clearly, a place where the contrary sides of human experience can be “centred.” Since the stanzas are undated and untitled, I’ve taken the liberty of giving them a title, snatched from a repeated phrase inside the sequence.

I’ll walk…. by Emily Brontë

Often rebuked, yet always back returning
To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
For idle dreams of things which cannot be:

To-day, I will seek not the shadowy region;
Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
Bring the unreal world too strangely near.

I'll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half-distinguished faces,
The clouded forms of long-past history.

I'll walk where my own nature would be leading:
It vexes me to choose another guide:
Where the grey flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side.

What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.