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To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters

Learn the extraordinary story of how, against all odds, the famous literary trio had their genius for writing romantic novels recognized in a male-dominated 19th-century world.


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WMHT | To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters on Masterpiece
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To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters on Masterpiece

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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. 

Written and directed by Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax), To Walk Invisible 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®).

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.

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.

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.

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.”

To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters Preview

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