Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wuthering Heights - Episode 1

I finally managed to see the first part of the new adaptation of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, starring Tom Hardy as Heathcliff and Charlotte Riley as Catherine and broadcast on PBS in the USA. It will be broadcast on ITV in April in the UK.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first part. I've read the book and I like it as an object of analysis, not so much as a story, but still.

I loved the two leads, they do a really great job portraying the characters, although I'm afraid they toned down Catherine's personality a little too much for my taste. It does make her more likeable but it isn't true to the book. Same goes for Heathcliff (I for one think Tom Hardy's gorgeous, which certainly doesn't help as Heathcliff doesn't have that effect on me at all) who I thought had his fair share of intimate moments with Catherine that gave us a pretty good glimpse of what she saw in him.

I kept focusing on what they had changed during the first 30 minutes, then I managed to get over it. I'm really disappointed in the fact that they didn't keep Nelly's narrative, and Lockwood's diary, that was crucial in my opinion. How often do you have a servant narrating such a story ? How often does a respectable gentleman come across as stupid ? Emily Brontë questions class very much in her book and it is practically absent here. Perhaps they thought the audience wouldn't understand since we don't live in such a system anymore - I still think it's a mistake not to take advantage of the different filters offered by the book. Here, the notion of truth is not questioned (in the book, since the story always comes filtered by at least one character, Nelly or Lockwood, even Isabella at some point, truth is very much an issue : how much do they tell us, how much do they keep from us ?) Here, nothing is as ambiguous.
Besides, Cathy Linton appears as much less stubborn than she does in the book - in the production she follows Heathcliff first and hears Nelly's warning afterwards, in the book she goes as far as Wuthering Heights on her own despite being warned beforehand. Again, mistake, although she didn't deserve what happened to her afterwards, Cathy is no angel. I liked Hareton, although we didn't see much of him. Cathy isn't as rude to him as she is in the book, again, mistake - notion of class, people. I hope they'll show more of that in the second part.
Another issue of mine had to do with the total absence of nature : where on earth is Brontë's romanticism in this adaptation? Where's the Gothic? We barely saw the moor, there's absolutely no gothic element whatsoever (problem with the timeline here, perhaps that'll be shown in the second part), it lacks supernatural, Wuthering Heights the house feels too much like yet another victorian house when it is the exact opposite. Too much realism.

I hope the second part will be wilder and transgressive. It's a difficult book to adapt, I even think it's impossible but I think the production has potential and despite my many issues with it, as I said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here's hoping to less likeable characters, more passion and more craziness. Wuthering Heights is a very subversive book and so far the production has toned it down just like it did for Hardy's Tess. What is it with ITV and the BBC that they can't take dark stories and adapt them as such ? We're in 2009, it's time to wake up. So no, the audience probably won't like the characters but then they weren't created to be likeable anyway, and no, the audience probably won't consider it as a feel good period drama that's nice and cosy and can be watched with a cup of tea. But really, what's the problem in that ? Would it be too much to ask for a challenging story once in a while ?