The Brontë Family and the Actors Who Portray Them

Daniel Hautzinger
Branwell Bronte's portrait of his three sisters alongside the actors who portray them in 'To Walk Invisible.' (Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE)
Branwell Bronte's portrait of his three sisters alongside the actors who portray them in 'To Walk Invisible.' (Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE)

To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters is available to stream by Passport members

Written and directed by Sally Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax, Happy Valley), To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters focuses on the trio of literary sisters in the years leading up to the successful publication of their classic novels, as they struggle with their brother’s alcoholism and the dismissal of a male-dominated world.

Do the actors in the film resemble their real-life counterparts? Learn a bit about five members of the Brontë family and compare their portraits to photos from the film.

Charlotte Brontë (Finn Atkins)

Charlotte Bronte. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE)(Photo Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE) The eldest surviving Brontë sibling (the oldest sisters Maria and Elizabeth both died in 1825, at the ages of eleven and ten, respectively), Charlotte was also the first to achieve success. She convinced her sisters to jointly publish some of their poetry in 1846 under the pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, and found a publishing house to accept their work. Though few people bought that collection, Charlotte persevered, and in 1847 won publishers for her Jane Eyre and her sisters' first novels in 1847. Charlotte lived the longest of the siblings, going on to publish two more novels in her lifetime and a third posthumously.

Emily Brontë (Chloe Pirrie)

Emily Bronte. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE)(Photo Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE) Emily’s only novel, Wuthering Heights, was published in 1847 in a companion set with her sister Anne’s Agnes Grey. The middle child of the three publishing Brontës, she was apparently solitary; her best friend was her younger sister Anne. The two created a fictional kingdom called Gondal that was ruled by a woman, and wrote stories that took place there in their youth. She died three months after her brother Branwell, in December of 1848, the first of the three writer sisters to go. Her real name did not appear on Wuthering Heights until 1850 – it was published under the pseudonym Ellis Bell.

Anne Brontë (Charlie Murphy)

Anne Bronte. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE)(Photo Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE) Anne was the youngest Brontë sibling. She worked as a governess in two separate households, losing her position at the second after bringing in her brother Branwell as a tutor, whereupon he began a relationship with the lady of the house. Her experience in the first household was largely the basis for her first novel, Agnes Grey. That work was the least successful of the first literary efforts of the Brontës, but her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, did exceedingly well. Now considered one of the first feminist novels, it was published only a year before her 1849 death.

Branwell Brontë (Adam Nagaitis)

Branwell Bronte. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE)(Photo Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE) Branwell fell between Charlotte and Emily in age and indulged in imaginative and creative games with his sisters as a child. A frustrated writer and painter (his portrait of his three sisters is one of few depictions of them), he was supposed to be the successful artist of the family, being the prized only son at a time inhospitable to creative work by women. Yet he lacked the confidence or discipline of his sisters, and drowned himself in drink and laudanum. He was the first of the surviving Brontës to die, in 1848.

Patrick Brontë (Jonathan Pryce)

Patrick Bronte. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE)(Photo Courtesy of Michael Prince/BBC and MASTERPIECE) The father of the family, Patrick outlived both his wife and all six of his children. An Anglican priest, he served as a curate in a small village in the north of England. (The surrounding moorland and ancient houses play significant roles in the fiction of his daughters.) Both a biography of Charlotte and the posthumous publication of her first novel came about through his help.

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