Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1992) Review
Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is a close adaptation of the novel. It was released in 1992, starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche and Janet McTeer. Though not perfect, it is a very good adaptation of the text. It is also admittedly a personal favorite of mine.
Cathy and Heathcliff
In Wuthering Heights, Mr. Earnshaw brings home a poor orphan boy one night, much to the displeasure of his family. While his daughter Catherine warms to the boy, her brother Hindley never does. And as the children grow older, a deep love develops between Cathy and Heathcliff. However, when Mr. Earnshaw dies suddenly, Hindley becomes the master of Wuthering Heights.
Heathcliff is then forced to become a servant at the Heights. Despite this, he and Cathy remain inseparable. It is only when Cathy is injured and forced to spend several months away from home in the company of strangers that she gets a taste of a different world. She becomes torn between her love for Heathcliff and society’s expectations of her. Her eventual choice will have consequences that dramatically change all of their lives and trickle down into the next generation.
Catherine and Hareton: the next generation
Wuthering Heights is a complex, non-linear masterpiece and out of the versions I’ve seen, this film does the best job of converting it to the screen. One of my favorite things about this adaptation is that it contains the full story and does not cut off halfway through. Filming only half of the book greatly diminishes the impact of the novel as both generations are so intertwined in the original text.
Also, in leaving out the love story between Catherine and Hareton, you remove some much-needed happiness from the novel which counterbalanced much of the misery in the rest of it. You miss out on a very sweet romance as well. Another choice I quite like about this version of Wuthering Heights is the framing device of Emily Bronte finding an abandoned old house and imagining what might have happened there. These two imagined scenes bookend the story nicely, putting words from the narrative directly into the author’s mouth.
This adaptation takes full advantage of the Gothic atmosphere in Bronte’s novel which can especially be witnessed in the haunting score composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto. It perfectly conjures up the yearning winds on the moors and the passionate yet tortuous love at the center of this unusual story. This version even plays up the supernatural elements of Wuthering Heights a little more than most tellings. The framing device of stating that it is a story from the very beginning gives the filmmakers the freedom to go further than they might otherwise.
This is a film which handles the material of the original novel with respect. Many small moments from the book and all the important speeches are included, word for word. For this reason, the 1992 version will definitely appeal to any avid fans of the book like myself.
Heathcliff being Heathcliff
As to casting, the frankly baffling choice of Juliette Binoche as Cathy Earnshaw and her daughter is distracting at times, especially since she doesn’t really make any attempt at hiding her French accent. She is very good in both roles, capturing the two women’s differing natures well; she just seems like a strange choice. I can ignore this however as Fiennes and Binoche have excellent chemistry. Ralph Fiennes is a very good Heathcliff, smoldering and dark. He plays him as the character was written; intense, unashamedly villainous yet somehow charismatic. Janet McTeer gives a solid performance as Nellie Dean making the character more sympathetic than usual.
Cathy discusses her love for Linton and Heathcliff
The only problem I might have with it is that certain parts of the story are handled very quickly. While this is necessary in order to fit the full plot into less than a two-hour running time, much of the beginning feels rushed. Nevertheless, it is a powerful rendition of a timeless classic and a must for any book fans (especially those with a soft spot for the Gothic).
Photo Credits: Paramount
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