Wuthering Heights (2009)
Does the world need yet another film or television version of Emily Bronte's gothic romance? Well, ITV clearly thought so. They did a fine job of it too with a surprisingly capable cast and production values that we once associated only with the BBC in more extravagant times.
Though this was produced frighteningly recently by an ailing ITV, it was with part US funding, destined for Masterpiece Classic on PBS, a station frequented by less than 10% of the US populace, yet that 10% representing a far greater reach than those tuning in on our own fair island. Not taking any chances, the DVD was out virtually as the end credits were rolling on ITV.
With all exteriors filmed on the Yorkshire moors (or thereabouts) despite all the expensive inconveniences that the climate there can bring, this is certainly an atmospheric production that does a half decent job of bringing the novel to life. Purists will inevitably complain that a movie just hasn't the scope to bring out the nuances of the novel, and they are right, but with a generous three hour running time this at least makes a brave attempt to do exactly that.
Peter Bowker took some tough decisions in crafting out the screenplay from the novel, never an easy task and no matter what is cut (out of absolute necessity) it is going to upset someone. One curio though is why he chose to move the action from the original 1801 to 1848 and I was hoping this might be addressed in the 'Behind the Scenes' documentary, though it never was. We also get a more literal interpretation of Cathy's sexuality where, in this adaptation we have no doubt that she has 'known' both Edgar and Heathcliff. Gone are the subtle insinuations of the original story, though I didn't think this was particularly problematic. We also get a very precise end to the tale (and Heathcliff's demise) in this version (which I won't spoil here) but in the book it is far less defined. So there has been some fairly liberal interpretation of the original text bringing literal events to where once these events were vaguely implied at best.
The locations look and feel like the real deal and against this back-drop a fine cast deliver a surprisingly good TV drama performance. ( I say surprising as the casting was both courageous and populist with ex - 'Skins', 'Coronation Street' and 'Footballers Wives' stars taking chunky roles).
Maybe this was, for me, more enjoyable than previous versions precisely because this was so far removed from the highly charged theatrical performances of yesteryear (Laurence Olivier etc). These are TV actors who feel no compulsion to project to the back of the hall; actors who realise that a camera close up can detect the subtlest twinkle of the eye or the vaguest hint of inner pain. Most notable, of course, was Tom Hardy who was simply breath-taking in the role of Heathcliff, making the part very much his own. Rugged, cruel, poetic and passionate, his performance is genuinely moving and I suspect there were few dry eyes in the house when Nelly tells him that Cathy has died. The sense of loss is almost unbearable.
Cathy was equally well cast with Charlotte Riley combining a natural elegance and beauty with a rugged northerness, completely in tune with the tale. Her performance was sublime.
Edgar, ably underplayed by Andrew Lincoln, was for me, the least convincing, but quite possibly because Andrew Lincoln is so often on TV, turning in almost identical underplayed performances punctuated by lots of deep breathing. But maybe I'm being unfair as this was clearly an ensemble piece that worked and that takes teamwork.
The aptly named Sarah Lancashire was well-cast too, using her worried eyes to great effect in the part of Nelly Dean.
The DVD itself is pristinely presented and, as you would expect with something so recent and 'digital', a flawless print and transfer. There are two audio options; standard stereo and 5.1, which brings some of the 'bigger scenes' to life with plenty of surround during the village fayre, and during the fight sequences.
Extras wise, there is a brief 'Behind the Scenes' documentary which is thankfully very informative rather than full of gushing luvvies and it helps bring some of the context and thinking into focus.
All in all, a very powerful drama and a fantastically moving way to spend three hours. It's also a production that you will want to view more than once, so a DVD purchase is essential. If you missed this when it aired, then now you can catch up. If you watched it, then you will know whether the DVD is for you or not.