Films / Screening Culture

Wuthering Heights: A Review (2009)

Wuthering Heights (1939 film)

Wuthering Heights (1939 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For a long time it had been on my mind that one day I would have to read or watch Wuthering Heights. All I knew about the classic tale was that it was a period drama by Emily Bronte and Heath Ledger was named after the main character, Heathcliff. By chance I discovered that a two part episode of the drama was on TV, and thank God I watched it.

It’s only very recently that I have begun to watch period dramas (Becoming Jane, Pride and Prejudice, etc.), but it’s evident that Heights is by far on another level and is one of the best romance stories ever imagined. The bittersweet characters and the intricacy of a two generation plot clearly settles the deal on that.

The story centres on a flashback when Heathcliff is taken in by Mr Earnshaw and the gypsy boy builds contrasting relationships with his carer’s daughter, Catherine and son, Hindley. However, when the generous father dies, Hindley becomes the master of the household and Heathcliff is forced to become a stable boy. His and Cathy’s relationship is the binds of the story although complications arise with the introduction of Edgar Linton.

Since I’m an novice on all things Wuthering Heights I can’t compare the actors from other adaptations or claim that the book was better than the show, all I can say is that the two leading stars, Tom Hardy (Heathcliff) and Charlotte Riley (Cathy), were so undeniably perfect for their roles and so hauntingly realistically that it is a sin that this rendition has not been shown to a wider audience.

English actor, Hardy, is making his way up in the world. I’ve known him, not personally unfortunately, for a good two to three years now and the majority of you will recognise him playing muscly genius Bane in Christopher Nolan‘s Batman conclusion, The Dark Knight Rises. I did know that he played Heathcliff in a Wuthering Heights adaptation and I remembered this near the end of the first episode. What made my memory take an hour to recall was because I was memorised by the unbelievable talent of the actor I was watching and I started wondering about if another actor would be able to portray Heathcliff better than this. Ping! It then hit me that Hardy had played this role in the past so I had it all sorted: I would watch his version of Heights. But then I started to think, could this be Tom Hardy? No, no this actor looked nothing at all like him and everything about his aura was so contrasting , but I couldn’t shake the idea off so as the next break unfolded I looked it up and there it was staring me in the face: Tom Hardy was Heathcliff.

Like a broken record my thoughts on this oh, so shocking revelation have been repeating constantly in my mind for the past few days because Hardy’s performance as Heathcliff startled me, satisfied me and then disappointed me. Hardy’s talents were clearly shown in this two parter, instead of in Inception or The Dark Knight Rises where we don’t get to truly witness his capabilities. Having being judged on his performance in Inception alone, transformed him into a hailed actor who was finally getting what he deserved by now gaining the opportunity to play the villain in a superhero blockbuster. But what aggravates me is why it is only these big time roles that classify as a success. In a way it feels to me more like selling out. I understand that gaining recognition is what actors want and that makes sense, but why, for example, couldn’t this adaptation of Wuthering Heights have gained more success? Why couldn’t different genres, for example, period dramas gain more screening time? Heights was probably shown the other day on TV because Hardy was in it and the channel would gain more ratings! I don’t know if Hardy was always aiming for these more glamorous high paying roles and if playing Heathcliff was just a way to put food on the table, but unless Hardy now chooses to take on more low key roles or to not participate in Hollywood movies then I don’t think I will ever again see him match or beat his performance in another film or TV show which is extremely frustrating.

I’m pleased that Hardy is now gaining more fans as I do think he is a great actor and I confess that I didn’t know of him before Inception either. However, that is what’s sad about the industry as it’s such a shame for actors out there who work in lesser known projects and prove that they can act better than those in Hollywood films, however since they do not have name for themselves they may never have that satisfaction of loads of people praising them and saying they have exceptional talent.

The other star of the show, Charlotte Riley was contagious as Cathy, helping to convey the care free girls who turns into a more sophisticated young adult, however Riley exceeded in making Cathy never truly lost her dignified spark that always suggests she is cocooned with innocence. Even Riley’s Yorkshire accent she used to portray Cathy seemed very out of place with the genre, but yet it fit magically for the character. A certain blissful attitude lingered in certain moments of the show and these amputations have got to be one of my favourite moments in all screening history. Cathy would run with this look of excitement longing in her wide eyes, one of pure focus, but then of haunting wondrous probabilities. How the camera focuses on her face as she run in her elegant white dress, seeming more like a playful child which probably wouldn’t have been tolerated in those days, is justified by the fact that Wuthering Heights is a passionate love story as she wasn’t running to a place, for a train, but to meet her love. Her eager run and searching gaze seemed as though Cathy wouldn’t believe he was there, or that he was even alive, until she finally laid eyes on him. That authenticity for the craving of the one you cherish determines that Cathy and Heathcliff were one soul broken into two bodies.

Of course there are other actors who do deserve credit for their fine performance. Sarah Lancashire plays Nelly, the housekeeper of Wuthering Heights, and it was interesting to watch how at some points she seemed to be treated like a part of the family, similar to Heathcliff at the beginning of the story, but this could change instantly. Cathy’s other love interest, Edgar Linton, was accurately played by Andrew Lincoln as someone who longed for Cathy’s true affection, and Burn Gorman realistically handled Hindley’s main story arc of someone who had everything, to nothing at all.

The director, Coky Giedroyc, was able to providing some beautiful scenes in surreal locations, particularly when Heathcliff and Cathy are alone together, for example, near the end of part 2 when they are hiding in a small cliff as it rains heavily outside and Heathcliff is holding Cathy in his arms. Although, a small glitch to the story is that sometimes it can become very confusing who is the parent of which child and this can make you lose track every so often.

I can imagine that one of the reasons why people don’t like watching historical films is due to the language used, but this is no Shakespeare. The language is very unchallenging allowing anyone to understand the film and so it should not be put off for that reason. Although sometimes there is the odd sentence or word, particularly in scenes fuelled with passion, which are unlike modern terms, but this helps to preserve speech during that era, which ultimately gives a healthy balance.

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