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Arts & Culture

MASTERPIECE: To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters

Courtesy of Gary Moyes/BBC and MASTERPIECE
Ann Bronte (CHARLIE MURPHY), Emily Bronte (CHLOE PIRRIE), and Charlotte Bronte (FINN ATKINS).

Airs Sunday, March 26, 2017 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

How, against all odds, were the Brontës recognized in a male-dominated 19th-century world?

Ever since they were revealed to the world as quaint country-women and not the notorious Bell brothers of their pseudonyms, the Brontë sisters have fascinated legions of devoted readers. MASTERPIECE brings these remarkable literary geniuses to life with a beautifully filmed and acted two-hour drama, "To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters."

Written and directed by Sally Wainwright (HAPPY VALLEY, LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX), this film makes a perfect companion to MASTERPIECE’s past adaptations of Brontë novels: "The Tennant of Wildfell Hall" (1997, Peabody Award), "Wuthering Heights" (1998 and 2009), and "Jane Eyre" (2007, three Primetime Emmys®).

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The Real Brontes

"The cast and creator Sally Wainwright explore the story and setting of "To Walk Invisible The Bronte Sisters." See it Sunday

Depicting the evolution of secluded, dutiful clergyman’s daughters into authors of the most controversial fiction of the 1840s, the drama stars Finn Atkins ("Eden Lake") as Charlotte, who shocked society with her edgy epic, "Jane Eyre"; Chloe Pirrie (WAR AND PEACE) as Emily, author of the darkly gothic and disturbing "Wuthering Heights"; and Charlie Murphy (HAPPY VALLEY) as Anne, whose true-to-life love story "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" was deemed “coarse and disgusting” by Victorian critics.

Also starring are Jonathan Pryce (WOLF HALL) as their distracted father, Reverend Patrick Brontë; and Adam Nagaitis (HOUDINI AND DOYLE) as the sisters’ only brother, Branwell, whose wild and dissipated life contributed to vivid characters in each of their novels.

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“To Walk Invisible” was filmed in and around Haworth, the picturesque Yorkshire village where the Brontë sisters lived and which is now a mecca for Brontëphiles from all over the world. Scenes at their parsonage home were shot in an exact replica that recreates the feel of a lived-in mid-19th-century provincial dwelling, with the sisters congregating around the dining table to pen their stories and plot their editorial strategy.

Based largely on Charlotte’s voluminous letters, the film follows the Brontë sisters in the eventful three-year period that saw them rise from ordinary, unmarried women, taking care of the household and their widowed father, to the secret authors of the world’s most sensational literature.

To Walk Invisible The Bronte Sisters: The Bronte Story

"Writer and director Sally Wainwright and the cast discuss the vision behind the bold and moving story of To Walk Invisible The Bronte Sisters

Although he never suspected it, Branwell was the inspiration. A would-be poet and artist, he was a complete failure due to alcoholism and opium addiction. As Reverend Brontë slowly went blind, Branwell was on an even more precipitous downward slide, inciting the sisters to do something to keep the family out of the poor house.

They had already tried being governesses — a thankless job except it provided good material for novels. So they set about turning personal experiences, keen observations, and unflinching honesty into fiction.

Worried that female writers wouldn’t be taken seriously, they adopted male-sounding pseudonyms: Currer Bell for Charlotte, Ellis Bell for Emily, and Acton Bell for Anne, retaining their own initials.

To Walk Invisible The Bronte Sisters: Confession Scene

"Charlotte Bronte takes a risk in this exclusive scene from To Walk Invisible The Bronte Sisters

The last name, Bell, may have been inspired by the arrival of a new set of bells for their father’s church, a momentous event in Haworth. Another possible source is the middle name of Reverend Brontë’s assistant priest, Arthur Bell Nicholls (played by Rory Fleck Byrne, GRANTCHESTER), who later married Charlotte after the tragically early deaths of her siblings.

But Charlotte gave her publisher a deeper reason for anonymity — and provided the title for this film: “I think if a good fairy were to offer me the choice of a gift, I would say — grant me the power to walk invisible.”

WATCH ON YOUR SCHEDULE:

This film will be available for online viewing for a limited time after broadcast. Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members ($60 yearly) using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn more and activate your benefit now.

CONNECT:

MASTERPIECE is on Facebook, Pinterest, and you can follow @masterpiecepbs on Twitter. #MasterpiecePBS #BrontëSistersPBS

CREDITS:

A BBC Studios and BBC Wales production, in partnership with The Open University, co-produced with Lookout Point and MASTERPIECE. It is written and directed by Sally Wainwright. Executive producers are Faith Penhale and Sally Wainwright, Matthew Read for BBC and Rebecca Eaton for MASTERPIECE.

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