Lynn's World of Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights -- Reviews
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criticisms of Wuthering Heights: the book,
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Date: May 1998
Heathcliff….the very name evokes thoughts of passion, betrayal, jealousy, revenge, and desperation. The central character in Emily Bronte’s novel "Wuthering Heights" is one of deep intensity, with whom his longing and passion for Catherine Earnshaw causes a transformation so extreme, that his character becomes one of the darkest and complex in all of English literature. His passion for Catherine, and her spurning of Heathcliff’s affections, turn him into a driven man, willing to go to any length to hurt her, and those around her, for the remainder of his life.
I’ve always been fascinated with stories of obsessive love, and to me, Ralph Fiennes portrayal of Heathcliff in the 1992 adaptation is the most complex, and multi-layered portrayal of this character I have ever seen. I truly feel he captured Heathcliff’s tortured and sadistic nature convincingly, yet also conveyed a deep sadness, as he was a victim of circumstances. When Ralph is on the screen, you can’t help but be transfixed by him, and he brings a sensuality to the role that no other actor has been able to do. Throughout the film, you see Heathcliff’s transformation at several significant events in his life, and Ralph helps the viewer to understand what tragic consequences a love so deep can do to a man, and what drives him to such desperation. Watching Heathcliff’s demise is heartbreaking, and he shows his pain so openly, as he does during Cathy’s deathbed scene, and his breaking the glass to enter into the house to hold Cathy’s lifeless body, ignoring the blood on his hands. This can also be considered a metaphor—perhaps part of Heathcliff’s pain is guilt, believing that he was somehow responsible for her death?? Through his words and gestures, Ralph takes the viewer inside Heathcliff’s soul, and we suffer along with him.
In the film, we see Heathcliff rise from an orphaned street urchin, to a grown up man, with feelings and growing bonds with his childhood friend Cathy. Through a look, a gesture, you see Ralph’s Heathcliff change into a man with full-blown sexuality, and an all-consuming passion for a woman who does not return his love, but who runs from it. Cathy is fighting her own demons, and has a desperate need to get away from her true love of Heathcliff, and turning to the bland Edgar. As Heathcliff, the spurned lover, Ralph captures the intense pain and longing of a man driven to hurt the one person he loves more than life itself, a woman who’s selfishness drives her one true love away. When Heathcliff returns after a two-year absense, Ralph conveys so convincingly a man who is possessed, and who believes that if he makes himself a better man, with money and power, that he will finally capture Cathy’s love, but to no avail.
Rejected once again, he finds a new purpose—to torture all those who mistreated him, and take away the one thing that Cathy loves more than him, that is her childhood home Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff believes that by possessing their home, he can possess her. Ralph is facinating to watch in this film, as he plays Heathcliff as a man without conscience. Ralph is able to capture Heathcliff’s pain to such a degree, with a look, a gesture, and the tension that is so necessary for this character, that he simply jumps off the screen. From the opening scenes when Heathcliff helps Cathy in the stables, to the pain of her death, and his vow to her that she will never rest in peace while he is alive, is so well done by Ralph, that you cannot help but understand what he is going through, and he brings such life to the character. We often see villains portrayed in films as monsters, but Ralph’s Heathcliff is a man with feelings, desires, and goals, yet his tragedy is that they mutate into self-distruction. When Catherine is lying in her casket, and the stubborn Heathcliff refuses to let her go, no one but an actor of Ralph’s range can evoke such pity and anguish, as when he is holding Cathy’s body in the casket. Breaking through the windows of the house he has been forbidden to enter, cutting his hands in the process, you see a lifetime of desperation come to fruition by attempting with all his being to break the bonds of death, and reach out to his beloved. Ralph’s portrayal grabs the viewer, and takes them along with it, almost to the point where you understand the injustices, and his reactions to it. Ralph is able to transform himself throughout the film, which is a tremendous gift. I would recommend this film very highly, and the musical score by Ryuichi Sakamoto is hauntingly beautiful. We, as the viewers, wish we could somehow release Heathcliff from his eternal torment. Alas, but Heathcliff lived in a prison all his own—his love for Cathy, a woman who loved only herself.
Date: 30 Jul 1998
From: Karen Mercedes
I've just watched all three of the main film versions of Wuthering Heights
again recently - the one with Tim, the classic with Olivier, and the
Paramount film with Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche.
As much as I love our Tim, I still haven't decided if I prefer his
Heathcliff to the others. I don't think it's denigrating to admit that -
he is in some amazing company with Olivier, one of the best actors of the
century, and Fiennes, who does wonderfully well when he plays tortured,
embittered, but essentially romantic characters. Still, I did think he
overdid the malevolence of the returned Heathcliff, particularly in the
second part of the tale (the part that neither of the other versions spent
any time on). Boy can he brood and glower!
On the other hand, I think Tim has the definite edge when it comes to
Heathcliff before his departure to make his fortune. Tim comes across
much more the disaffected teenager than do either Fiennes or Olivier - I
think he's absolutely perfect in the first part.
As for Olivier's performance, I think where he had a definite edge over
either Tim or Fiennes was in the total sense of transformation when he was
away. He really did come back "a gentleman"; maybe it was too much of a
transformation, but I think that external appearance of total refinement
was exactly what Heathcliff was meant to convey when he came back; if the
transformation were only partial, and glimpses of the old rough Heathcliff
came through, the contrast just isn't strong enough, nor certainly is
Isabelle's surrender (Heathcliff has to seem like a true gentleman for me
to believe such a gentle spirit would be attracted to him, particularly as
I sense she must have either totally ignored or feared him when he was
still an unrefined force of nature). With both Tim and Ralph, I always
had the sense that the "wild gypsy" was on the brink of breaking out and
spoiling the entire effect. I think Heathcliff would be far too much in
control of himself to allow that to happen - or to even appear like it
might happen. He wouldn't have to struggle against his "true nature" - he
would have it 100% contained; Olivier conveyed that more than either
Fiennes or Tim, but I think it may have been that the latter made
conscious choices to show a Heathcliff who had put on the trappings of
refinement but was still, at heart, a wild force of nature. If that was
their conscious choice, they both played it well (and Tim's transformation
was more effective, because he seemed to age 10 years in the two he was
actually away - Fiennes played his Heathcliff too old to begin with, so
the transformation was far less jolting or satisfying - it had more to do
with his change of clothes than anything more substantial). I just don't
think it was the right choice.
As for suffering in the end, I still fear that Olivier had the edge here -
but not just in this film, but in many others he proved himself
wonderfully adept at revealing that soft-hearted core behind the hard mask
(indeed, as Mr. Darcy he revealed it TOO much for my liking - I thought
his transformation into the soft lover in that film was too hard to
believe; David Rintoul's Darcy in the 1979 BBC Pride and Prejudice was
just right to my taste - Colin Firth in the 1996 P&P was too much the
tempestuous romantic hero - now THERE's an actor who should have had a
shot at Heathcliff! Certainly he would have made a better Rochester than
William Hurt's pathetic effort). Tim did well at this too, and Ralph
Fiennes certainly suffered, but because we had the whole history, and not
that quick jump from Cathy's death to Heathcliff's, by then Heathcliff was
a much less sympathetic character than he was in the abbreviated versions.
Anyway, those were my initial thoughts having seen all three again
recently. I didn't bother trying to lay hands on that abysmal BBC
mini-series version; it truly wasn't worthy of the time spent. The one I
do want to see next is the French version; I just have to remember which
of my local video stores had it on their shelves.