WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1970 United Kingdom)

1970titlesOne of literature’s greatest love stories and this is the best adaptation I’ve seen so far. A tale of tormented lovers who are destined to be together until the end of time and beyond. “When I’m dead, I think I’ll come haunt you as the sunset. ” – Catherine

An apocalyptically gloomy classic. Heathcliff is the young orphan rescued from a life in the streets and brought home by Mr. Earnshaw (Harry Andrews) to live at his Yorkshire farm with his family, which also includes his daughter Cathy and his son Hindley. As they grow through childhood, Cathy and Heathcliff spend their time together roaming the moors, and vow mutual everlasting devotion. For no reason that I could discern, the older Hindley boy resents Heathcliff, but is the one sent away to get expensively educated.

After the elder Earnshaw dies, Heathcliff and Cathy are in their late teens, now played by Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall. Hindley (Julian Glover), now married, returns from the outside world to claim his inheritance. Heathcliff’s fortunes take a bad turn when Hindley relegates him to a position not much better than a farm hand. In the meantime, Cathy lives temporarily in the local magistrate’s grand manor house, where she acquires the manners and dress of a “lady” and attracts the eye of the judge’s son, Edgar (Ian Ogilvy).

4930649_l3Eventually returning to her brother’s household with superior airs, Cathy essentially wishes Heathcliff would take a bath. To make the first half of the film’s story short, Hindley’s wife dies soon after giving birth, Hindley drives Heathcliff away to a destination unknown, and Cathy, with nothing better to do, weds Edgar. Have I spoiled the plot? No, because it doesn’t truly get going until Heathcliff, with a wardrobe and personal appearance make-over, suddenly walks in on Hindley and his drunken buds after an absence of three years.

The audience never finds out where he’s been, but he obviously has an attitude problem and means to settle old scores. And he’s lost none of the raw wildness from those years mucking about the countryside. My understanding is that this version foreshortens the book, but is faithful to it as far as it goes. Subsequent to Heathcliff’s dramatic return, I expected a great finale. What I got was overwrought melodrama as Heathcliff makes himself totally insufferable with all and sundry. He’s a social misfit if ever there was one, totally out of his depth. The film’s apparent message is that one can’t escape his/her upbringing.

wuthering%20heights600I’m not sure what I thought about Dalton. He smouldered and pouted very well, but his character didn’t seem full to me. It felt like he was playacting. Superficial. Also, as usual, he can’t maintain a consistent accent. In the first half, there was one scene, in the stable, where he had a very coarse Yorkshire accent. Other than that, in the first half, he spoke pretty much the same as in the second half: with a refined, upper-class accent. It’s lame. I suppose many female viewers feel differently about his performance but I lose my suspension of disbelief when accents wobble. I felt Julian Glover was head and shoulders above him in bringing the character of Hindley to life. Glover always puts his heart and soul into any role he plays.

Anna Calder-Marshall does not possess the stunning beauty of Merle Oberon, but she hits all the right notes essaying the social-climbing Kathy, playful and wild. The dowdy Flora Robson, from the 1939 screen version, has been replaced by the buxom, nurturing Judy Cornwell. Cornwell’s “milkmaid dresses” almost overflow, and she is so nurturing one almost expects her to “pop one out” and feed Heathcliff or Cathy at some critical moment. Alas, she never does. Nonetheless, Cornwell’s expressive face and body language at times nearly steals the show, but by no means throws it off balance. An Earth mother is always welcome.

MV5BMjE4MzQyMjUxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjQxNzM2__V1_SX640_SY720_Other fine performances include the ever suave Ian Ogilvy as Edgar, Harry Andrews as father and Hillary Dwyer as Isabella. This version is definitely the closest in ‘spirit’ to the book. The sequence near the end of the film where Heathcliff goes down to Cathy’s grave, later to be led on up the hill by her ghost, is simply one of the most haunting fleeting moments of cinema I have ever seen. The viewer is touched on a visceral level of poetry, and its rare you can say that about scenes from a mere ‘film’. Filmed on location in Yorkshire, the scenery is spectacular: foreboding whilst depicting the characters sense of desolation and hopelessness.

The cinematography dishes up enough bleakly magnificent atmosphere and mood to satisfy the most yearning viewer. In fact you may feel, like me, emotionally drained by the whole experience. The musical score, by the prolifically talented Michel Legrand, is a personal favourite of mine too–amazingly heartfelt and dramatic. It is so powerful it seems to erupt out of the earth with blood and fire. It can make one burst into tears. I don’t like costumer dramas particularly, but I watch this “Wuthering Heights” every once in a while. It’s worth my time because it is that good. The best film of its year? Yes. It will torment your soul.

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Comments

  1. Very interesting!! I’ve never seen a film or TV adaptation which comes close to the quality of the book. I don’t think I’ve actually seen this one though……………

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  2. I’d wager many fans of the book will feel let down by any version, but I saw this before I read the novel so it made a unique imprint on me. This is such an intense version and I don’t mind whatever liberties were taken. I’m biased toward films from this era though, lol.

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