Wuthering Heights (2009)   

 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

At the conclusion of this miniseries one of my friends turned to me and said, "Somewhere in Yorkshire, Emily Brontë is rolling over in her grave!" She may very well be right, for this is a "loose" adaptation at best of her classic novel about obsession, passion, and unending torment... on the other hand, it is also the first version of the story that I have honestly enjoyed from beginning to end.

 

The arrival of a gypsy boy to Wuthering Heights sets all the locals to gossiping about his origins. Taken under the wing of the compassionate and mild-mannered Mr. Earnshaw, Heathcliff soon finds a friend in Earnshaw's daughter Cathy, and a rival in his son Hindley. Fisticuffs and insults aside, the passionate boy soon grows into a spirited young man (Tom Hardy). His friendship with Cathy (Charlotte Riley) has blossomed into love and the two spend hours together wandering the moors. One afternoon their return home finds Earnshaw dead on the floor of his study. This demands the immediate return of Hindley (Burn Gormon), whose hatred for Heathcliff transforms into abusive power as he forces him to maintain the status of a servant in the house. Determined not to allow this to influence their relationship, Cathy continues to spend time with him despite her brother's insistence otherwise -- until one evening she suffers a fall outside the home of the Lintons.

 

Forced to remain with them until her ankle is healed, Cathy returns much-altered in appearance and character. Her new preoccupation with fashion and the opinion of others puts her at odds with Heathcliff, and sets into motion a series of events that envelope the occupants of the Heights in Heathcliff's all-consuming desire for revenge. The novel was rather scandalous when it was first published and remains to this day a testament to its kind, for it is about a set of characters more dark than good. Whether the reader, or in this case the viewer, is meant to like any of them is never quite explored, for it is at its most base value, a story about how obsessive hatred and jealousy destroys lives. Heathcliff says as much when threatened with damnation, he retorts that he gave his soul to the devil long ago.

 

While this adaptation does not stray away from the morbidity of the book, and sometimes even encourages it (in one scene, Heathcliff digs up Cathy's remains and embraces her corpse) the style of filmmaking, the chemistry of the actors, and the clarity of filmmaking allow it to be somewhat less depressing than most. The story remains true to the original in some respects and veers wildly off course in others; if you are a fan of the book, there will be things that will frustrate you to no end and others that you might rather like. That being said, it remains one of the darker volumes of literature and is not for the faint of heart. Themes of jealousy, passion, hatred, and violence are rampant in spirit if not in depiction. Filmmakers also chose to incorporate a sexual element that did not really need to be there and otherwise sours the experience.

 

There are three scenes of this nature -- the first consists only of tender kissing and caressing (it implies Heathcliff and Cathy were "intimate" in their youth), but the other two are decidedly more graphic and while clothed, include movement. Both of them are excruciatingly long. I understand the subliminal meaning behind each (to contrast Healthcliff and Linton) but felt it was too much for the film. Preceding the third, Heathcliff strips his new wife to the waist and looks her over, but the camera reveals only part of her bare back. There is some mild language. Violence is not prevalent but does include a dog being beaten (presumably to death) with a rock while it is attacking someone, and a man having his head bashed multiple times against a table and then a stone floor. Heathcliff is beaten by Hindley, first with fists and then a whip (implied). Blood drenches a bed on which someone has committed suicide.

 

In keeping with the theme of the novel, the ending has a ghostly twist. Heathcliff claims to have cursed various people, condemning one of them to walk the moors until his soul is at rest. One could argue that the book and thus the film contains valuable messages about life, death, and forgiveness. It is fascinating to contrast the actions of the "good" characters with the "bad ones," because sometimes we find the "horrible" Heathcliff more compassionate in many respects than the gentlemanly Linton. It is also the only adaptation that has ever brought me to tears at the conclusion. I would not recommend it to casual fans of Brontë, but for those willing to overlook its faults, it may prove a surprisingly impacting experience.