Friday, November 03, 2006

Overlooked DVD of the month - WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1992)

If I've done wrong I'm dying for it.  With the London Film Festival at an end, Doctor007 and I indulged in a bit of quality time with a classic romantic movie and dinner date. Watching the new Anthony Minghella flick, BREAKING AND ENTERING I was reminded of how much I admired the actress Juliette Binoche. So, I opted for an obscure remake of WUTHERING HEIGHTS from her back-catalogue. I was in the mood for a girly costume drama - a little bit of self-indulgence - but for the sake of Doctor007 opted for something with a little bit more fire and a bit less simpering. On paper, Emily Bronte's novel fulfils this criteria. It is framed with a chilling ghost story - with images of broken glass and blood - in a grim manor house on the moors. Instead of elegant courtship, we have a headstrong passionate girl called Cathy who is in love with a stubborn, violent young gypsy boy called Heathcliff. Heathcliff is abused by Cathy's elder brother to the point where she is tempted to marry a more genteel neighbour with better social standing - an act which becomes inevitable when Heathcliff leaves in a fit of pique to make his fortune. He returns to find Cathy married and pregnant and takes a slow revenge on successive generations of her family.

This movie version of the book is admirably condensed to under two hours by a screenwriter called Anne Devlin who seems to have done little else - a shame as she manages to capture the essence of the novel and leave little out. The only notable change is to make a notional character called Emily Bronte narrate rather than Ellen. This clarifies a notoriously complex structure and thankfully, Devlin does not cut down on Ellen's screen-time. The movie is less successfully directed by Peter Kosminsky who does a straightforward job capturing the suitably wild and rugged Yorkshire locations - nothing fancy but nothing terrible either.

The casting is interesting. In the secondary roles we see a young Jeremy Northam as Hindley Earnshaw and an outstanding performance by Janet McTeer as Ellen Dean. In the major roles, Ralph Fiennes is a very fine Heathcliff - combining ruthless sadism and vulnerability. The problem lies with Binoche as Cathy. Her looks are perfect and she and Fiennes have real chemisty. Her acting - when we consider her physicality and her face - is pitch perfect. The transition from playing Cathy to playing her daughter is beautifully done. Binoche even does a rather good job of supressing her French accent. But she does not finally succeed - and therein lies the rub. I recommend this movie as a sort of experiment - how far will fans of the novel forgive the hint of the French accent given the brilliance of Binoche's physical performance...?

My only other quibble is that this movie plays very much as a tragic passionate love story. But the chilling ghost story element is rather lost in translation to the screen. We are simply not haunted enough by it. Still, this is an interesting cinema adaptation and for all its flaws, tremendously enjoyable and tremendously romantic.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS was released in UK cinemas in 1992 but did not get a US release. It is now available on Region 1 and 2 DVD.

4 comments:

  1. So is Doctor007 your boyfriend? Husband? Plaything? Gimp?! lol

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  2. *deadpan* He's my doctor

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  3. Are you playing silly buggers again? lol

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  4. This movie review is completely impressive. I do thank the writer for giving us such a valuable information.

    ReplyDelete