Friday, 26 February 2010
I've been asked to write about the latest screen adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, made in 2008, and that's precisely what I've been doing for the last couple of days. There are many things that I like about this version, such as the fact that the costumes don't overwhelm the narrative, as is often the case in many costume dramas, and the fact that Tom Hardy is brutal enough to play Heathcliff, who is, to the surprise of many people who read the novel, astoundingly brutal. I say surprise because Heathcliff has earned himself a cultural reputation as one of the most well-known romantic heroes, yet he is anything but in the pages of Brontë’s novel.
I guess this is part of the mythology that has been built around Wuthering Heights as a legendary love story. I can't tell you how many times I've had people tell me how disappointed they were that the novel did not live up to its romantic reputation, or how unsympathetic they found Cathy and Heathcliff. I don't think the point is to like any of the characters , or to view the narrative as an ideal love story. Another thing that often surprises me is how difficult it is for many people to actually consider that Cathy's vacillation between two men, and her inability to choose between them, is not a form of selfish "betrayal" or wilful childishness, but rather a stunningly acute and telling critique of the limited freedom and position of many nineteenth-century women like herself. Brontë was far too clever, in my opinion, to buy into the stereotype of a teasing woman.
I guess this is one the reasons why, despite my appreciation of this adaptation, it left me disappointed. It seems to me that it tried to play around with the original narrative in a manner that seeks to "explain" the more complex social and cultural motivations of the characters for a modern audience. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with adaptations that play around with their source text; I'm not a purest and I don't expect or even want the film to be faithful to the original text. Such a concept is highly naive anyway. My frustration was more to do with the fact that this adaptation sought simple explanations which seem to neatly close-off all the wonderful interrogative possibilities of Brontë’s novel.
Has anyone seen this version?