In February 2010, it was announced that Browning would play the lead role in the independent Australian film Sleeping Beauty, directed by Julia Leigh. She replaced Mia Wasikowska, who was committed to a film adaptation of Jane Eyre at the time. The film screened at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and the Sydney Film Festival. In a review from the festival, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called the film "Technically elegant with vehemence and control . . . Emily Browning gives a fierce and powerful performance . . . There is force and originality in Leigh's work". Fionnuala Halligan in Screen International wrote "Browning has gone the distance for her director and together, they have delivered something here that sometimes catches your breath". At the festival Browning said, "Even reading the screenplay, it made me feel uncomfortable. But that was something that attracted me to it. I would prefer to polarise an audience as opposed to making an entertaining film everybody feels ambivalent about. "