PBS // 2009 // 137 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 8th, 2011
One of the greatest romances of all time.
"I would die a thousand deaths if I knew she were waiting for me."
During Heathcliffe's (Tom Hardy, Inception) formative years, he enjoyed a deep friendship with his step-sister Cathy (Charlotte Riley, Easy Virtue). As they grow older, their friendship blossoms into secret romance. However, as time passes circumstances begin to push them apart. Rather than finding a way to change things or simply moving on with his life, Heathcliffe begins to plot vengeance on everyone who has attempted to come between he and Cathy in any way. Is there any hope that these two lovers will find happiness, or is everyone doomed to a miserable fate?
Particularly by the standards of the era, Emily Bronte's gothic romance Wuthering Heights is a wild, untamed melodrama. However, the story has generally been treated like a traditional period piece in the cinematic adaptations we've seen to date; films which don't seem a million miles removed from the average Jane Austen flick. As Coky Giedroyc's 2009 adaptation of the tale opens, we're given something startling and unexpected: a jittery tracking shot that takes us on a creepy, frantic journey through a dusty mansion (my wife aptly described it as a, "shot that seems to be from the point-of-view of a velociraptor."). However, after that first 90 seconds, the wild experimentation stops and we settle in for a traditional Masterpiece Theatre treatment of Bronte's novel.
While I was initially disappointed to discover this Wuthering Heights wouldn't be as strikingly inventive as the main title promised, I was pleased to discover an exceptional adaptation that holds up pretty well in contrast to the previous versions (most prominently, a 1939 version with Laurence Olivier, a 1970 take with Timothy Dalton, and a 1992 effort with Ralph Fiennes). The source material can be rather tricky to deal with, as it offers an awkward framing structure (one that some versions throw out entirely) and two rather unsympathetic lead characters. While Giedroyc stumbles on occasion in attempting to deal with some of these challenges, most of what he offers is smart and involving.
One of the key virtues of this Wuthering Heights is that it attempts to offer both characters some form of empathy while also fully acknowledging that they're both basically self-absorbed jerks. To be sure, circumstances do push Heathcliffe and Cathy apart to a certain extent, but their real problems are rooted in their unwillingness to compromise their pride and/or social standing. They are incapable of sacrificing enough to earn mutual happiness, and as a way of responding they choose to make everyone in their lives miserable. They could easily be impossible to spend time with, but the performances and direction ensure that we at least understand what drives these people and even feel for them at times.
Speaking of which, the real reason to see this Wuthering Heights is the riveting performance of Tom Hardy as the troubled Heathcliffe. Hardy's solid early on as the conflicted young man in love with his step-sister, but absolutely electrifying as the calculating, embittered self-made man plotting revenge on his long-time enemies. Hardy brings so much icy passion to the role and has a few genuinely frightening moments; there's a feral anger boiling beneath the surface that threatens to burn the prim and proper period trappings to the ground at any moment. If you need further proof that Hardy deserves his newfound stardom, you'll find it in this role. Riley is capable as Cathy, but her role is a good deal thinner than Hardy's. The highest compliment I can pay her is that she manages to prevent Cathy from seeming like a supremely obnoxious human being. Impressing in supporting roles are Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead) as the long-suffering Edgar Linton and Burn Gorman (Torchwood) as the impossibly snooty Hindley.
Wuthering Heights arrives on Blu-ray sporting a decent 1080i/1.78:1 transfer. As with other versions of this story, there's a whole lot of lush scenery on display throughout, and the film is lovely to behold in hi-def. Detail is pretty strong throughout, particularly in terms of background detail, though some darker moments suffer from slightly heavy noise. Audio is exceptional, with an effectively moody score by Ruth Barrett and Bronte's memorable dialogue dominating the proceedings. There's nothing overwhelming or exceptionally immersive, but it's a sturdy track. Supplements are limited to some behind-the-scenes footage detailing the making of the film.
The framing sequences have been cut from other versions for a reason: they're just not as interesting as the story they surround. That's also the case this time around, particularly when the film returns to that framing material during the closing moments of part two. The film's original ending has been altered in a way that feels needlessly sensationalistic -- I might have found it more persuasive if the movie were actually consistently delivering the sort of experimental riff the opening credits suggests.
There hasn't yet been a truly great film made of Wuthering Heights, but this handsomely crafted effort is nonetheless well worth checking out. If nothing else, it offers a dynamic Tom Hardy performance, which justifies your 137 minutes of time all by itself.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 137 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated