The Twenty-First Century Heathcliff

      It seems to me, after having seen three filmed versions of Emily Brontė's 1847 Wuthering Heights, that the definitive screen adaptation has yet to be created. The rather truncated 1939 rendering, named for the book and directed by William Wyler, left lovers of the classic novel yearning for a more fully realized account, as well as less melodrama. The 1954 version, renamed Los Abismos de Pasion, directed by Luis Buńuel, at times both dark and brooding, suffered from a lack of authentic locale. (But, boy, was it lusty!) And the 1993 version, also entitled Wuthering Heights, directed by Peter Kominsky, seemed woefully miscast; and its hurried presentation left inadequate time for proper character development. One could barely keep up with who was in love with whom. No, the ideal filmed account of Miss Brontė's work will probably best be achieved by a conscientious group of British actors in a much longer form, preferably that of the television mini-series.

      A novel as rewarding as Wuthering Heights, so descriptive of its environs, so rich in characters, and so satisfying in the resolution of its many plot twists and turns, needs several hours in which to faithfully render the printed word. We want to get involved in our melodramas! The passage of many years should be accurately depicted, and the changing nature and appearance of the characters within the story adequately reflected. How about a few wrinkles on the aged?--and can one try to make the sick look, well, sick?

     The moors, so essential to the story, must certainly figure prominently in this new adaptation--please, no fake highland backdrops or Pennistone matte paintings. And entire sections of dialogue must be lifted whole from the pages, thus preserving the spirit of the original work

      The 1939 film of Wuthering Heights, which starred the venerable Sir Laurence Olivier as the enigmatic Heathcliff, is certainly a beloved version by many. And the 1954 film Los Abismos de Pasion, filmed in Mexico, with Alejandro (Heathcliff), played by Jorge Mistral, is also a worthy spin on the story--well worth watching. The 1993 version, with the talented Ralph Fiennes in the starring role, was a faithful rendition of the novel and accurately recreated the look of the moors. But Fiennes, with his Aryan features, was definitely miscast, again, in a film that went from cradle to grave in nothing flat.

      Olivier was undoubtedly the premier actor of his generation, and probably had the right "look" for the part. That his performance seems so "over the top" can be attributed as much to screenplay and direction as to any inadequacies on his part. But again, the character of Heathcliff, as written in the novel, needs a certain amount of time to pass him by, so that we may see and understand his dark nature a little better. In addition, so strongly is his character set in readers' minds, that great care should be taken when casting Heathcliff for film. I have it in mind that the perfect candidate would be relatively unknown on the world stage, possibly a member of one of Britain's many theater companies, and one who resembles Heathcliff in both face and form.

      But it is not all about Heathcliff. Merle Oberon as Catherine did a passable job way back in 1939, the main fault having to do with dialogue and coaching, not to mention that she was too pretty to be deathly ill. Catherine, Heathcliff's lifelong love, and indeed all the characters from the novel, might better be served by "unknowns." Then, at least, the focus could remain on the story itself. We would not be distracted by observations that Julia Roberts is running around on the moors, or that Brad Pitt is trying to brood.

      I set this challenge before the film makers of today: Give us the Wuthering Heights we deserve. Film it lovingly against the backdrop of green valleys, majestic crags, and quaint little farms. Also, throw in some thunder and lightning. Hire some terrific British actors with authentic English accents and let them speak the words as they were written. And just as importantly, let us get a sense of the scope of it all. Take us from the beginning straight through to its rightful end, which is a very good place to stop.

Wade Kingston

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