Some time ago, Lucasta Miller chronicled in The Bronte Myth how the entire Bronte family has been repeatedly reinvented--as domestic heroines, as eerily "wild" products of an apparently bookless upbringing, as the children of a dubiously sane father, and so on. (Arguably, this process started with Charlotte's own critiques of her sisters' fiction after their death.) To Walk Invisible apparently takes some of Miller's work on board, along with that of the Bronte family's most important recent biographer, Juliet Barker: Patrick is kindly and supportive; the sisters are not domestic proto-goddesses (Emily, in particular, appears to enjoy making bread primarily because it enables her to punch it); and not even Anne, the most conventional of the three sisters, seems entirely enthusiastic about a life devoted to "duty." Indeed, the final scenes of the film, a walk-through of the modern parsonage museum, reminds us that the Brontes' lives have been, for lack of a better word, curated. Instead, the film focuses on the problems of ambition and career, especially inasmuch as it is supposed to shape (or not shape) the lives of men and women. Unlike Victoria, which trudges year-by-year through the sovereign's life, To Walk Invisible takes on only those years immediately surrounding the publication of the Bronte's earliest works, ending shortly after Branwell's death in 1848. This proves ironic: it is Branwell's ultimately shapeless life that grants the film its chronological shape.
Although the film roots the family's story-telling propensities in their childhood play with tin soldiers (which, in semi-surreal flashbacks, become animate), the adult sisters divide over how to regard their writing activities. Charlotte, who has stopped writing at the time the movie begins, returns to it as a profession, a means of supporting herself and her sisters after her father dies. By contrast, Anne and Emily understand writing purely as a means of self-expression and liberation, continuing to explore their jointly-imagined fantasy world into adulthood. For them, writing is a vocation, a quasi-divine calling borne of love and internal compulsion, not of material need. This split between Charlotte and her sisters recurs in the film's representation of their relationship, in which Emily, Anne, and Branwell are all clearly closer to each other than anyone is to Charlotte. At the same time, Charlotte's thwarted desire for her teacher, Heger, along with her amusingly awkward relationship with her future husband, links her thematically to Branwell and his failed romance with Mrs. Robinson. Both Charlotte and Branwell share emotional trajectories that drive them out of the immediate family to find fulfillment--indeed, they both have friends who aren't relatives--whereas Anne and Emily are entirely bound up in their sororal relationship. Branwell's inability, however, to live up to what everyone sees as proper early-Victorian codes of manhood also makes him Charlotte's most frustrating sibling. Everyone, granted, is annoyed with Branwell, who spends the film drinking himself to death out of frustration and despair, but Charlotte is by far the least sympathetic to his problems. Charlotte's professionalism, which makes her the most pro-active about identifying and dealing with publishers, putting manuscripts in the mail, and so on, leads her to run roughshod over her sisters' feelings (she has to sneak around Emily's room to see her poems and is not exactly kind about Anne's work, calling it at most "competent") in a way that the film represents as necessary, but it also echoes Branwell's own solipsism when it comes to his relatives. This link recurs in the film's muted "vision" theme, which yokes the near-sighted Charlotte and Branwell, the characters most obtuse about other people, to their father, temporarily blinded by cataracts and unable to "see" the true qualities of any of his children. Charlotte's triumph near the end, when Patrick Bronte finally learns about Jane Eyre, occupies the place in the narrative that Patrick has spent the entire film yearning to assign to his son.