Friday, October 30, 2009

Must Watch Friday: Wuthering Heights

Michelle Styles looks at the latest adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Does it match the sheer power of the novel?

Once upon a time, when I was about six, my first grade teacher started to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl to the class. I loved the book but Mrs Hemming read it far too slowly. My mother bought me the book and it became the first chapter book that I ever read and really turned me on to reading. When the movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory came out several years later, I could not wait to see it. However, as I watched it, I wept bitter tears. The movie had missed the essential point of the book – Charlie never does anything wrong. He is a good kid.
And thus began my disillusionment with movie adaptations or television. In my humble opinion, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the book offers a far richer experience than the movie.
Now that I am grown, I can divorce my pleasure in a book from my pleasure in an adaptation. An adapatation stands or falls on its own merit, not its protrayal of the book.
I was forcibly reminded of this recently when I watched the latest ITV adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Wuthering Heights is a novel which taunts movie makers. No adaptation that I have seen has ever quite managed to capture the raw power of Emily Bronte’s novel. And I believe you can tell those people who have only seen an adaptation versus those people who have read the novel. Wuthering Heights is not a romance as protrayed in the classic 1939 version with Laurence Olivier as Heathcliffe and David Niven as Edgar Linton, but a novel about the destructive power of love and obsession. It scandalised a nation when So when I came to watch the latest television adaptation, I emptied my mind and tried to enjoy it for its own sake.
Rising star Tom Hardy played a credible and ultimately ruggedly sexy Heathcliffe but Charlotte Riley was a bit weak as Cathy. She somehow lacked the strength that is needed to play the part. And it was difficult to see what Cathy saw in Edgar Linton (Andrew Lincoln) and why she decided to marry him. And why her sense of betrayal at Heathcliffe leaving is so great, particularly when he decides to return after just after she marries. Equally the adaptation does not show why the whole cycle of revenge was so important to both men and defined them both. For example, Edgar Linton is not as kindly as he makes out and even though he knows that his sister has been ruined by Heathcliffe, he turns his back on her. But in this adaptation, it came as being somehow out of character and Lincoln’s portrayal of Edgar Linton did not quite have the complexity needed. The adaptation missed somehow.
A few weeks later, I went to Haworth and the Bronte Parsonage. There they had an exhibition of the costumes with an explanation of what the designer had done. For example, when Cathy is wild on the moors with her illicit love for Heathcliffe, she wears bright colours and then as she becomes tamed by the Lintons, she wears the pale shades. So that when she marries Linton she is basically in white. After Heathcliffe returns, now a wealthy man, colour is once again added to Cathy’s wardrobe as she struggles between her old love of the moors and her new respectability. seeing the exhibition, I wondered if I had not given the adaptation enough of a chance. Was it better than I thought?
>At my daughter’s entreaties, I purchased the dvd and watched again. I enjoyed it far more the second time. Tom Hardy is an excellent actor and he does bring a complexity to his portrayal. There is a certain power to his acting and you do really feel for Heathcliffe. He becomes a tortured soul who loves and loses and ultimately loses his mind. I also enjoyed Rosalind Halstead who played Isabella Linton who becomes trapped in the terrible triangle and is seduced by Heathcliffe. I actually found myself hoping that Heathcliffe would see sense and settle down with Isabella...alas it was not to be. It is good entertainment. But it is not my vision of Wuthering Heights.
So if you want Wuthering Heights as a romance, watch the classic black and white version. If you want to see a passable adaptation which gives several hours of entertainment, watch the Tom Hardy version. If you want to glory in the sheer raw power of gothic emotion, then read the book. Emily Bronte's vision of her book remains the most true.

Michelle Styles's next book The Viking Captive Princess is published by Harlequin Historical in December and she will admit to being more of a Mr Rochester fan than a Heathcliffe one but Tom Hardy did make a case for Heathcliffe.


  1. Michelle, I completely agree with you that generally speaking the book is richer than the film - I think there are some aspects of prose that just can't be translated onto the big screen. Having said that I do love the medium of film - sometimes it's better to see a film when you haven't read the book because then you don't suffer that disappointment. I didn't see this adaptation of Wuthering Heights, perhaps it's just as well. I think when one has created a very clear world in one's head from reading the text, it jars to see someone else's interpretation of that world.

  2. Sarah --
    Yes, I love films. It took me a long time to stop comparing them to the book. But as a result of films, I have discovered some excellent books. I can remember searching out Dr Syn because of the Dr Syn and Scarecrow DIsney films for instance.
    But you are right it is when the vividness of the world lingers that the movie jars.