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.