I have always been drawn to stories that are from another era. I grew up watching a lot of BBC costume dramas, science fiction and Shakespeare-in-the-Park, so I don’t think anyone who knows me finds it terribly surprising that I ended up writing a short film about literary giants Charlotte and Emily Bronte, the two sisters who wrote Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.
Several years ago, I read Juliet Barker’s book, The Brontes. I knew very little of these famous sisters’ personal lives, and I was struck immediately by the contrast between their physical isolation in rural Yorkshire and the vastness of their imaginations. As children, Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Anne created two immersive fictional worlds called Angria and Gondal, filled with rich characters and scenarios as detailed as anything in our modern Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. As they grew up, their literary output expanded to include poetry, letters, short stories, and the novels for which they are so celebrated. This power of imagination would have been impressive enough, but becomes deeply moving when you consider the numerous personal tragedies in their lives.
Death was ever-present in the Bronte family. There were originally six siblings. Their mother, Maria, died a year after her youngest was born and the two eldest girls died when they were 10 and 11. This left the father, Patrick, and his four remaining children: Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell, the brother. Charlotte outlived each of her siblings, enduring the pain of watching one beloved family member after another grow ill and succumb to tuberculosis. Yet despite all of this — the isolation, the tragedy, the loneliness — from this family sprang some of the most ferociously imaginative literature the world has ever known.
No Coward Soul is Mine by Emily Bronte
2 January 1846. “The following are the last lines my sister Emily ever wrote.” (Charlotte)
No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven’s glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.
O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life that in me has rest,
As I undying Life have power in thee!
Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idle froth amid the boundless main,
To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of immortality.
With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.
Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And thou were left alone,
Every existence would exist in thee.
There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou thou art Being and Breath,
And what thou art may never be destroyed.
In this age of having everything at our fingertips, it can be a strain to imagine what it was like to be an artist in such isolated circumstances. In 2011, we constantly meet and connect with other writers, actors, and filmmakers from all over the world. We worry about selling ourselves, raising capital, utilizing social media, constantly comparing the quality of our work to our peers’, worrying about what we don’t have, or what we only wish we could create if there was more time, more money, more help, etc. The “lack of” can hang around you like a stone.
But what the story of the Brontes reminds us is how powerful our imagined life can really be, and how it can guide us and connect us to our true purpose. When we have nothing, we still have imagination. And when there appears to be no way to move forward, whether after tragic personal loss or a mere hiccup in pre-production, if we will only allow it, imagination will save us. We truly already have everything we need.
In our pre-production process, I’ve learned that the most important thing is not only to trust my own instincts, but to believe that they should be looked to more often than my type-A, right-brain producer-head. It’s not about making this story “relevant”, “relatable”, or “accessible,” three nauseatingly overused words when it comes to historical subject matter. It’s about going to the heart of the matter – not pretending an absence of distance between the Bronte world and our world, but exploring that distance. There are echoes inside each of us of these past worlds, and if we worry less about technology and self-consciousness, we are better able to hear them.
“The human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed;
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,
Whose charms were broken if revealed.”
These themes are what inspired me to write LINES. It’s not a slavish biopic about the Brontes, and I don’t intend to make a film to satisfy Bronte scholars. LINES is merely a glimpse into their world, and a look at the themes that encircled their lives, and which I know encircle our own. LINES has become more personal for me as well as my own sister, Marion Kerr, will be playing Emily to my Charlotte. We’ve never worked together professionally before, and it’s a unique opportunity to play sisters whose relationship was both like and unlike our own. As our shoot draws nearer, we’re both excited and terrified to take on these roles!
We have one week left in our Kickstarter campaign and though we have met our bare minimum, making a film set in the 1840’s continues to have unique challenges. We’re hoping to get as close to $4000 as we can before filming starts on November 19th. If you’d like to find out more about Lines, please take a look at our Kickstarter campaign here: http://kck.st/rdvqqj
VIVIAN KERR (“Charlotte”/WRITER/CO-PRODUCER) – Vivian Kerr wrote, starred, and co-produced the web series “We Are with the Band” which was accepted at the 2010 Independent Television Festival, and won Best Duo at the 2010 Indie Intertube Awards. She is a member of SAG, AFTRA, and AEA, and her film and TV credits include “Time & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” and “Mystery ER.” Recently, she was nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Play at the 2011 Ovation Awards for her role in “The Crucible” with acclaimed theatre company Theatre Banshee. She is a graduate of the USC School of Theatre, BADA in London, and a member of the LA filmmaking collective We Make Movies. Follow her @VivianKerr or find out more at www.viviankerr.com.