Film review: Wuthering Heights (1998), directed by David Skynner, adapted by Neil McKay
This version of Wuthering Heights commences with Mr Lockwood arriving at the Heights, only to meet some hostile dogs, Sarah Smart in a blonde wig (Cathy Jr.) and a young Matthew Macfadyen (Hareton). There’s also Heathcliff (Robert Cavanah), who looks the part. Lockwood spends the night, sees the ghost of Cathy, causing Heathcliff to have a tantrum as she refuses to show herself to him.
And then it’s cut to the past. The child actors are really cute and they do a good job of playing mini-Cathy and mini-Heathcliff (who arrives with injuries on his chest). As children, li’l Cathy sees the apparition of adult Heathcliff in a cave. All in all, this adaptation does seem a bit gothic in parts, with the continued talks and sightings of ghosts, the dark and dreary Heights and the black, riveted casket Mr Earnshaw gets taken out in.
Hindley doesn’t seem too bad in this, he’s more mocking. They have a fight as children, but as an adult, sure, he turns Heathcliff out, but he’s not made out to be quite as bad as he actually is. Instead, there’s even some sympathy to be had when he starts drinking after the death of his wife. In the book, she seemed to be of poor health or at least some kind of weakness. Here, she dies because the doctor can’t stop the bleeding from Hareton’s birth … which makes sense, considering the actress looks very healthy and rosy before going into labour. “Radient” is the phrase, I believe. Not the sickly creature they wonder why on earth he decided to marry.
If this scene isn’t infamous, I really don’t know why. Cathy and Heathcliff on the moors, finding eggs. They have a lie down and kiss, and there’s a thread of spit between them afterwards. +1 for realism, -5 for presentation! Then later, of course, Cathy goes to the Lintons, whileHeathcliff goes back to the nest, snares the mum so she can’t feed the chicks and kills them, saving their skulls in a box. When he shows them to her, and she is suitably horrified, he says “There’s no point to them living if I didn’t have you.” Yikes.
Overall, I found Cathy a bit too controlled and mature, considering she goes stark raving bonkers later on (that’s not the politically correct medical term, obviously, but “insane” isn’t half as much fun as words go) – she sits on her bed, sorting feathers into piles, but I don’t get the feeling that she’s properly lost her mind. There, I think I liked Charlotte Riley’s (2009) portrayal better.
Robert Cavanah’s Heathcliff has a darker complexion than Tom Hardy, more true to the book. I also think Cavanah was better over-all. Sure, when he was supposed to be like 18 or so I didn’t quite believe it, because he looked considerably older than that, but he came across quite well. Or, as well as the character allows. After all, we are talking about a dog-strangling psychopath. He’s not as intense as Hardy, and instead of the excellent “don’t look at me” with Isabella, he more or less just rapes her. Charming fellow, not so much.
The story concludes with Heathcliff having died and appears as a ghost to li’l Cathy at the cave, and Cathy Jr. kissing Hareton, and they all lived … erm … ever after.
It’s a lot closer to the source material than the 2009 version, but not as close as the 1978 version, but on the plus side, it’s about 1 hr 50 min long and doesn’t bore you to tears. I think I enjoyed it more now that I knew the story and have read the book than I did when I saw it the first time. That was my first introduction to Wuthering Heights, and my first reaction was “oooookay … WTF was that?” as I thought it was going to be, well, nice and romantic. Instead, I found a bunch of self-obsessed, dislikable people who all hate each other and end up dead. At least it ends on a positive note, with the kids finding one another. Even if I much prefer Sarah’s hair in Sparkhouse, because here, it really looked a lot like a wig.
So, in short: Follows book pretty well, the acting was good, but they didn’t quite get the characters right.