Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Disappointing

PBS via associated pressCharlotte Riley plays Cathy and Tom Hardy is Heathcliff in the PBS production of ''Wuthering Heights.''

Sunday I watched the newest version of Wuthering Heights on PBS. Sadly, it in no way compares to the quality of Tess of the D'Urbervilles that was on a couple of weeks ago. And like most contemporary versions, it pales to the artistry of the classic 1939 film starring Lawrence Olivier and Merle Oberon. Although the 1939 version only covered the first half of the book, it captures the obsession and passion of the attachment between Catherine and Heathcliff much more than does the new PBS version, for all the panting love scenes in the latter. That Cathy and Heathcliff carried on an adulterous relationship is not even implied in the novel. It is a novel full of subtle implications; Cathy running off to meet Heathcliff on the sly after her marriage to Edgar is not one of them. It seems to me that what gave the edge to the lovers' frustration is that their relationship was indeed unconsummated. However, it was not the physical aspect (or lack of) that caused the destruction, rather it was the psychological turmoil and interior conflict that induced the despair. Instead of honoring Cathy's marriage Heathcliff tempts her and then torments her by marrying Isabella, whom he does not care about at all except as the vehicle of his vengeance.

In the old movie as in the book, no sins of the flesh are committed, that anyone is aware of, although suppressed passion simmers in every chapter. The tempestuous climate of the moors reflects the inner tumults. The core of the evil is not in the wildness of the elements but in the addictive behaviors of the Earnshaw family. Heathcliff is as addicted to his anger and hatred for all who have injured him as much as Hindley is addicted to his drink. Heathcliff's inability to forgive, more than his thwarted love for Catherine, is what destroys most of the main characters.

The recent PBS rendition is not without its merits; it is well-cast, and includes the latter part of the book. As one reviewer observes:
"Wuthering Heights" benefits from some compelling and surprisingly credible performances by several cast members. Tom Hardy, who will play Bill Sikes in the forthcoming "Oliver Twist" on "Masterpiece," makes a very intriguing and believable Heathcliff, despite all the character's personality U-turns. He looks almost handsome as the young Heathcliff, yet somewhat grotesque as the older man consumed by hate, and that's almost entirely because of his performance, as opposed to, say, makeup and messy hair. Charlotte Riley makes for a beautiful and spirited Cathy, Burn Gorman is properly reptilian as Hindley Earnshaw and Andrew Lincoln - at first noble and patient, and then frustrated by jealousy as Cathy's husband - is almost equal to the challenge of making us believe this unlikely character as raggedly sketched in Peter Bowker's script.
I found Tom Hardy's Heathcliff to be so demonic that it is incomprehensible how anyone, even Cathy, could love him. Olivier's Heathcliff, on the other hand, was still worth loving, and did not seem so beyond redemption, even when he was being a wretch. I might watch the second installment on PBS; it is probably more worthwhile to curl up with the novel, or watch the classic version again.

Wuthering Heights (1939)
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11 comments:

Ms. Lucy said...

I'm glad you said it, Elena. I tried to watch it on Sunday, and half way through it I decided that I was done giving it a chance. there's no comparison to the classic. It seemed to me that it was trying to atract a different viewer by skewing the events and turning it to flimsy and superficial. That's only my opinion...

elena maria vidal said...

That pretty much sums up my opinion, too.

Alan said...

My wife and I felt the same way you did.

Catherine Delors said...

It sounds like a shallow adaptation of a great book, Elena. No regrets to have missed this one...

Sally said...

I agree with you in your disappointment. I felt the actor portraying Heathcliffe does not have the intensity of Oliver or even Fines in other versions. This is my all time favorite story, and this production does not do it justice.

Hélène said...

I was disappointed that I missed it, but now I am glad I did. I have one question though. I really disliked Olivier's Pride and Prejudice and so am somewhat skeptical of any other literary movies he did. Did you see P and P and if so, how did it compare to Olivier's Wuthering Heights?

elena maria vidal said...

Hélène, while I enjoyed Olivier's performance as Mr. Darcy the 1930's film itself took some liberties with the novel. The 1990's version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle is by far the most accurate version.

May I ask what was it that bothered you about Olivier's performance as Mr. Darcy? I think he was excellent.

Hélène said...

I didn't dislike his performance in P and P, I disliked movie itself. I guess I was concerned that other literary movies that he was in would be unpleasant, not because HE was in them but because of the time era. Maybe the director, script writer, or the like were doing similar things which were popular at the time but over all make the movie less enjoyable. It was very common for movie studios back then to have contracted actors, directors and other employees who would all work together on a series of films until their contract expired. I am afraid I am not being very clear, but my problem is not Olivier, but the way Pride and Prejudice was done. I called it Olivier's to distinguish it from Firth's or Kira Knightly's.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Hélène, I know exactly what you mean. Many old films are "dated" for the reasons you mention. Thanks for replying; I personally like the P&P with Colin Firth the best. As for Olivier's Wuthering Heights, it is such a favorite of mine that I am really not able to be objective about it. I just love it so.

janeaustensworld said...

I curled up with the novel, which of course made the movie adaptation even more unpalatable, since there was no reason for the deviations from the plot except to weaken it. I found Hardy's performance strong, though demonic. The best I could do was write a parody review of the film on my own blog. - Vic

elena maria vidal said...

I watched the second part last night, which I will blog on later. The departures from the original plot were truly bizarre.