Wuthering Heights–Revenge Overshadowed by Romance?

         Wuthering Heights, first published in 1847, is an English literary classic by Emily Brontë. Proclaimed for its detailed language, in particular its depiction of the vengeful and cruel nature of humanity, Brontë’s novel has received varieties of literary criticisms, as well as extensive praise. Wuthering Heights, the film adaptation brought to the big screen in 1939 by William Wyler, is a much different version of Brontë’s deep, dark and brooding storyline. Through his own cinematic prowess, Wyler shifted the novel’s original storyline into one much more focused on the romantic connection between Heathcliff and Catherine, the story’s protagonists. While many praised Wyler for his modifications to the original story, citing that his adaptation made the story more enjoyable and friendly, I feel that his depiction of the story’s main characters, particularly Heathcliff, had a negative impact on the original story.

         The main plot of Wuthering Heights revolves around Heathcliff’s life-long vendetta against Hindley, the brother of Catherine Earnshaw, who resented Heathcliff as a child for growing up and living with him and his family. This vendetta is spurred out of dark, spiteful revenge that Heathcliff exhibits often throughout the story. Catherine and Heathcliff, who become inseparable from one another as children, fall in love, and their relationship faces great turmoil due to Heathcliff’s thirst for revenge.

         While Wyler did introduce this notion of revenge in his film, I believe that is was quickly overshadowed by his emphasis on the romantic components of the story. This is especially evident near the end of the film, where it seems as if the entire focus of the movie is on the romantic connection between Heathcliff and Catherine (Merle Oberon). Laurence Olivier, the actor who played Heathcliff in the film, often seemed quite lackluster during the more “dark” emotionally driven scenes. In my opinion, this style caused Heathcliff to have a much duller personality, rather than the spiteful, rage-filled emotion he seemed to possess in the book.

         While Wyler may have sculpted an enjoyable rendition of Wuthering Heights, I do not believe that his version truly gives the story credit where it is due. Whether it is a mere oversight of Olivier as an actor, or a direction Wyler chose to take, I believe downplaying Heathcliff’s emotion towards cruelty was a poor decision, and it had a definite negative impact on my enjoyment of the film.

Matthew Branson

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