Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Wuthering Heights (1978)

Perhaps with Kate Bush's debut single of 1978 Wuthering Heights ringing in their ears, the BBC brought to the screen with yet another adaptation of Emily Bronte's classic novel in the autumn of that year.

Running a little over four hours across five episodes, this gains kudos for being perhaps the most faithful and accurate adaptation. Ken Hutchison is suitably rugged, brutal and cruel as the haunted Heathcliff whilst Kay Adshead depicts a histrionic, wildly unpredictable tantrum throwing Cathy. However, as a viewer, I was left more with a feeling of 'they deserve to rot with one another' than sympathy for the doomed romance and undying passions on display. 

This is one I'd recommend for the devoted lovers of the book who can overlook the quaint production values of 1970s British television. There was an old Monty Python sketch which took a self indulgent and knowing potshot at the then norm for filming interior scenes on V/T in the studio and exterior scenes on location and on film; "We're surrounded by film!" a mildly panicked Graham Chapman is heard to mutter as he peers through the window of the studio set to a real location outside. I'm reminded of this when watching this production, except its not just film that our ensemble appear surrounded by - there is also the less than special effects used to simulate the wild and windy moors; there's the primitive paintbox depictions of slanting rain shrouding the faces of actors peering through windows, or the bright blue flares which vividly linger and ghost upon the studio cameras represent the lightning. If you are comfortable with our television styles almost forty years ago then you should have no real issues with this adaptation. However, I do wish the director Peter Hammond would have given his constant habit of presenting the action by shooting through things a rest; whole scenes play out with the camera positioned behind the fireplace with its flames lapping at the characters in the distance, or through stairs, windows and beneath the shrubbery.

An extremely faithful depiction from joint scriptwriters David Snodin and Irish playwright Hugh Leonard brings to the fore the melodrama, hysteria and supernatural Gothic air of the book which the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti referred to it as "an incredible monster. The action is laid in hell, only it seems places and people have English names there" but personally I still prefer Andrea Arnold's wonderfully earthy and bleak 2011 adaptation.

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