Consider the Circumstances

     One of the most difficult jobs an actor faces is the task of portraying a literary character possessing an ambiguous interpretation. In William Wyler's 1939 version of Emily Brontė's Wuthering Heights, Laurence Olivier was given this difficult job as he was cast as Heathcliff. Even though his performance was not among his best known, Olivier did an excellent job under the circumstances with which he was faced.

     In Brontė's 1847 Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff was not only the most important character of the novel, but also the most difficult to understand. He was a man with many sides, each contrasted greatly from the others. He grew up a happy child with Catherine by his side but developed into a young man possessing no ambition or understanding of society outside of Wuthering Heights. By no means was Heathcliff stupid; he was just naļve. Eventually, Heathcliff gains an understanding of success in society, but by that time it was too late as Catherine had already married. As he ages, Heathcliff's original personality completely deteriorates; and he becomes a humble, angry, and confused individual who eventually reaches a point of serious mental distortion.

     Wyler's Heathcliff was quite similar to that of Brontė's. Olivier portrayed Heathcliff as an emotional roller coaster who eventually reached insanity until his reunion with Catherine in heaven. In fact, Heathcliff's treatment of Hindley (Hugh Williams) towards the end of the film should be considered an excellent interpretation of Brontė's depiction of the scene in her novel. However, Olivier's performance is consistently ridiculed by modern critics. Perhaps this is done because of a lack of understanding of the novel that provides the basis for Heathcliff's character. Although it is regarded by some as the greatest novel of the nineteenth century, Wuthering Heights is also highly disliked by many modern readers. This failure to enjoy the novel may be the reason that Olivier's portrayal is also disliked. Viewers will not enjoy a performance that is based upon a story line that is criticized.

     To conclude, it is fair to say that many films and acting performances will receive criticism consistent with period in which occur. Because of the fact that many modern readers do not enjoy the novel Wuthering Heights, it is very difficult for the twenty-first-century individual to enjoy the film. On the other hand, when viewed by those individuals of the mid-twentieth century, Olivier's performance was probably regarded as accurate and well performed due to the continual rise of enjoyment of the novel Wuthering Heights.

Craig Sam Aguiar

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