PBS’ steamy new take on Emily Bronte’s classic Wuthering Heights is sure to give die-hard Bronte fans a bad case of the vapors. Some of the more poetic lines are assigned to different people. Plot lines are twisted. And most threatening of all, characters dramatically veer from the book’s portrayal of them. (Gasp!)
For example, Bronte’s Cathy is a churlish, drama queen with a snobbish comeuppance that makes her undeserving of Heathcliff’s love. In the movie, Charlotte Riley portrays a more sympathetic Cathy who passionately begs for Heathcliff’s forgiveness. She screams, "what have I done," when she realizes that her marriage to the debonair yet dull Edgar was a seriously bad move. She knows she will never be free of Heathcliff's (Tom Hardy) all-consuming hold on her, but she places the blame at her own feet...something Bronte's self-destructive Cathy would never have done. As a result, I couldn't help but like this Cathy more. And although less complex, she seemed far more real to me.
This is a hard book to translate into a movie. Bronte’s portrayal of Cathy and Healthcliff's relationship is a slow build of emotion. The movie goes straight for the jugular.
For example: In the book, the poignancy of Heathcliff and Cathy’s first reunion is implied when Nell the housekeeper notices the peaceful serenity of the Moor’s fog parting to reveal Wuthering Heights in the distance. After not seeing Heathcliff for over 3 years, Cathy brings him into the parlor for tea with her new husband, Edgar. Hardly a morsel of food is touched. The prose is beautiful. The tension is palpable. Most importantly, the reader understands perfectly the emotional significance of their reunion.
But while the symbolic parting of the fog over the Moors and the untouched food may work in a book, in a film….it just doesn’t cut it. Thankfully, the producers of this Wuthering Heights used less fog and more steam. Instead, Healthcliff hungrily devours Cathy and whispers, “when can we be alone.” It sounds cheesy in writing, but Hardy’s uncontrollable ferocity and Riley’s total surrender will have even the most hardened Bronte fan reaching for their smelling salts.
Undeniably, Tom Hardy is hot. I don’t mean just hot as in sexy. I mean he boils over with hatred. While some people may prefer their Heathcliff watered down with a dash of Lawrence Olivier’s Victorian propriety or Ralph Fiennes soulful tenderness, I will take my tea and crumpets with the brooding savage any day. Hardy by far does the best job yet capturing the powerful brutality of Heathcliff’s personality. It’s one of the reasons why I originally fell in love with Wuthering Heights. It’s not just that it is a disturbingly, raw tale. It’s a disturbingly raw tale that anyone can relate to. For who hasn’t been in a relationship that was destructive to their soul? Hardy’s performance packs such a fierce emotional wallop that it is sometimes painful to watch. If only I could occasionally reach into my television and slap him (or at least brush his hair) then it wouldn’t make me ache so much. Instead, I have to sit back and watch him muck up everyone’s life in the name of revenge. And that is just part one…
If you missed the first episode, you can ache too by watching it online. Let me know what you think.