This adaptation of Emily’s Brontë’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights, directed by Coky Giedroyc, was aired on ITV at the end of August this year – I only watched it the other day after a friend informed me; I’m not quite sure how I managed to miss it earlier in the year.
It’s been a long time since I last read Wuthering Heights – in fact I haven’t opened the book since I studied it at AS-level at the age of 17. It was the first classic novel I’d ever read and I fell in love with it immediately. Perhaps it’s a good thing it’s been such a long time since my last encounter as I don’t remember all the particulars: according to most of the reviews I have read, the screenwriter of this latest adaptation, Peter Bowker, seems to have deviated a great deal from the novel. I picked up on the obvious deviations, of course, like the absence of Lockwood and the story-within-a-story structure of the classic tale, various scenes that were added such as Heathcliff being bullied by the local boys and more…but I’m not sure that this really matters.
When it comes to adaptations, I’m a purist – any adjustments, innovations or exclusions will irritate me to no end, but in regards to Wuthering Heights – after seeing a number of adaptations – I am of the opinion that it is just not possible to do this great novel any justice! Up until this version, I had not been impressed with any adaptation so far. The last one I saw was the 1999 drama with Orla Brady and Robert Cavanagh, and I was sorely disappointed. I’m not saying that Giedroyc has made the perfect adaptation of Wuthering Heights, far from it and fingers crossed there is a better one to come, but there is definitely something that makes this one stand out from the rest. I don’t think adapting this novel is about doing exactly what the books says – but being able to portray the characters of Cathy and Heathcliff and their relationship most authentically and this where I think most adaptations flounder.
Overall, I don’t think Giedroyc got the characters quite right – they’re all pretty watered down, from the first generation (Heathcliff, Cathy, Edgar) to the second generation (Catherine, Linton, Hareton) to even the servants (Nelly, Joseph). Heathcliff definitely doesn’t appear as sadistic or demonic as Bronte presents him in the novel – showing him as such is where, I believe, the adaptations become problematic: Heathcliff is hardly a typical anti-hero and so no adaptation can be successful unless the viewer, like the reader, holds an ambivalent attitude towards him after watching it. But I have to say that this Heathcliff, played by Tom Hardy, is the best portrayal I’ve seen so far. Hardy brings out Heathcliff’s bitterness and frustration, and although he’s not as malevolent as Brontë’s Heathcliff, Hardy’s Heathcliff is a truly tormented, jealous and passionate creature. The viewer is torn between sympathising with Heathcliff’s love for Cathy and the torture of their separation, and the horrifying effects of its destructive power on the innocents in the story. Hardy is truly haunting as Heathcliff.
Cathy’s characterisation, on the other hand, is extremely weak: she seems almost pleasant! Giedroyc’s Cathy lacks the haughtiness and egocentricity that Brontë’s Cathy possesses, she is not particularly strong-willed, childish or mischievous. And her “I am Heathcliff” is a total washout. The only point at which I think a degree of the real Cathy-ness begins to emerge is when the ‘romance’ between Heathcliff and Isabella begins.
As for the rest of the characters: Andrew Lincoln does a good job with Edgar Linton – his frustration and love for Cathy is shown more authentically than in other adaptations; Isabella’s portrayal heads in the right direction but unfortunately her failed marriage to Heathcliff isn’t given enough screen time; the characterisations of the younger generation are seriously diluted – Linton is not quite as weak and sickly as he should be, Catherine not as impetuous or arrogant and Hareton not as rough or quick-tempered.
Although the characterisation isn’t as accurate as I would’ve liked, I think it works well as drama in itself. It isn’t clumsy and takes it’s time to build the story and the relationships – I don’t even mind the extra scenes because it assists the storyline. Since Heathcliff is the key stumbling block for most directors and is what can make or break an adaptation, Giedroyc success with Heathcliff’s characterisation really does it for me and makes this adaptation of Wuthering Heights my favourite one one so far.