Wuthering Heights (1992)
A Film Review
Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005
There comes the time when the author of this review has to admit that there are holes in his “general culture”. In other words, there are some Great Books I haven’t read nor I’m familiar enough to consider myself as much erudite as I would like to be. One of those examples is WUTHERING HEIGHTS, novel by Emily Brontë and one of the classics of English literature.
Having little time to read the novel, I watched Discovery Channel documentary series dedicated to Great Books. One of the episodes was dedicated to WUTHERING HEIGHTS. I was slightly disappointed with it. The documentary went to great lengths in order to provide as much details about life of Emily Brontë as possible. As result, there was very little to time to deal with the novel itself. What little information I received about plot and characters led me to believe that the novel was not as great as it had been cracked up to be. Some of my suspicions were proven correct with the WUTHERING HEIGHTS, 1992 film adaptation directed by Peter Kosminsky.
The plot, set in rural Yorkshire in early 19th Century, describes the conflict between individual passion and strict norms of English society. Two major protagonist are Heathcliff (played by Ralph Fiennes), a poor gypsy adopted by landowning family, and landowner’s daughter and Heathcliff’s foster sister Catherine Earnshaw (played by Juliette Binoche). Two of them grow up and fall desperately in love with each other, but, since Heathcliff doesn’t have proper background, she marries wealthy landowner Edgar Linton (played by Simon Shepherd). Hurt and humiliated, Heathcliff leaves the manor only to return years later as a very rich but still embittered man with terrible vengeance on his mind.
WUTHERING HEIGHTS is a very dark film, and this might come as a shock to those viewers who based their perception of rural 19th Century England on the novels by Jane Austen. Vision of Emily Brontë is much more realistic and shows how people’s happiness can be destroyed both by social pressure and their own personal demons. While the novel was referenced as best known Gothic romance, the film is more Gothic than romantic and the protagonists often commit violent and morally questionable acts. This is a problem for WUTHERING HEIGHTS, because viewers are forced with sympathise with people who couldn’t tolerate in real life.
While the costumes, production design and cinematography is great – as it was the case with most classic literary adaptations in 1990s – that can’t be said of acting. Ralph Fiennes is, to a certain degree, effective as troubled Heatchliff, but he lacks chemistry with Juliette Binoche who is too cold as film’s heroine. Matters aren’t helped with the decision to cast Binoche in dual role of Catherine Earnshaw and Cathy Linton. Music score by Ryuichi Sakamoto makes this film sound good, but the general impression is still mostly disappointing and WUTHERING HEIGHTS could be recommended only to those already interested in the novel.
RATING: 4/10 (+)