It is a truth universally acknowledged that if, in a 19th century English period drama, a man and a woman at first regard each other with haughty disdain, they will eventually realise they are desperately in love. Whether at all true to life, the traditional romance genre loves to begin with lively scorn.

This is true of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë’s final novel published in 1848 under the pseudonym Acton Bell. In Emme Hoy’s adaptation for the Sydney Theatre Company, it is clear in their first snootily indifferent interaction that Helen (Tuuli Narkle), the titular tenant, and the strapping Gilbert (Remy Hii) will end up in each other’s arms, perfectly matched in intellect and mutual respect. But this tale, under another masterful direction by Jessica Arthur, carries far more powerful and sobering social political freight beyond the elaborate dramas and dramatic ironies of lovers’ confused hearts.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Powerful and, in its time, shocking,...