Making a Real Wuthering Heights Adaptation For Once

        A perfect example of how an author's literary vision can be distorted and made into a generic Hollywood movie is Wuthering Heights; this important novel, written in 1847 by Emily Brontë, has been made into too many poorly done movies, including William Wyler's 1939 adaptation starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. Because I am a filmmaker, I consider the effectiveness of the execution of every movie I watch. If I made a Wuthering Heights movie it would not be a movie but a TV mini-series, and--unlike previous directors--I would focus on creating tone-setting costumes, building Gothic sets, and keeping the structure of the Brontë novel intact.

        The costumes in Wuthering Heights will be important for conveying the personality of each character as well as for balancing them. For Heathcliff a lot of light-colored clothing would be used since he is already a dark character both physically and mentally and because adding to that a wardrobe of dark, ominous clothing would be overkill. I would give him light clothes also to play with the generally used "black=evil/white=good rule" for dramatic effect. I will make him look calm and serene, but audiences will learn of the fury and anguish from which he suffers. Every costume will be gritty, including the dresses worn by the ladies. Striking colors will be used that will make the characters stand out against the dark, grey backgrounds, but there will be an earthiness to the clothing, especially the clothing of Heathcliff and Catherine, to indicate the inner decay of certain characters.

        These gritty outfits will look out of place in normal, realistic-looking sets, which is why I will go for a darker, grittier, more stylized set design. Wuthering Heights itself will be reminiscent of Weathertop in the Lord of the Rings films and will recall the style of Tim Burton's early work. The walls will be angular and grey; the home will be barren, cold, and dirty. Thrushcross Grange will be much more ornate, much shinier, and much more comfortable to look at, and this will assist Catherine's affection for the lifestyle of the Lintons. All sets will also change throughout the course of the mini-series: Thrushcross Grange will become grayer and more sullen--more like Wuthering Heights--and Wuthering Heights will earn a reddish black tint to express the new ownership of Heathcliff and the growing sense of a hell on Earth that Wuthering Heights will engender for the last generation of children who live there.

        Most important in the adaptation will be the structure of the story itself. The entire story will remain intact--not just the popular love story. The novel will be divided into three two-hour segments to be shown on television across three consecutive nights. The first night will detail the events of Heathcliff's and Catherine's youths and will end when Catherine becomes infatuated with the Lintons' wealth and extravagance. The second part will begin with the love triangle between Heathcliff, Edward, and Catherine, and will end with Catherine's death and the birth of her daughter. The third part will tell of Heathcliff's dominion over the children at Wuthering Heights and will end with his death and the reconciliation of the children.

        Special attention to the costumes, sets, and structure would allow for the creation of a more honest and compelling interpretation of the novel than has been made already. The problem with earlier adaptations is that they try to compress too much into a two-hour movie. The film would be best on HBO without commercials and censorship; but if other networks picked up the rights, it could be executed as three two-hour parts on television, minus 1/3 of the time for commercials. In this case the entire running time of the "film" will be about four hours: the same as Gone With the Wind, but much more manageable for networks--not to mention today's restless audiences.

Eric Hovis

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