Film productions based on the novel by Emily Brontë:
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Director William Wyler; writers Charles MacArthur, Ben Hecht, John Huston; featuring Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald
COMMENTARY | MOVIES
Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fines are a surprisingly fine Catherine and Heathcliffe in 1992 film version.
The heights of torment
There have been about a dozen film and television adaptations of Wuthering Heights since the famed 1939 movie, but one of the most interesting may be the 1992 movie that bills itself as Emily Brontë. (Apparently they had to get around copyright issues, since rights to "Wuthering Heights" were owned by the studio that did the 1939 film.
This retelling of the story keeps the narrative simplicity of the 1939 film, but has the story briefly introduced by Brontë herself (a cameo by singer Sinéad O'Connor). Otherwise this Wuthering Heights is relatively faithful to the novel.
In fact, it's better than the 1939 film, and—and here's a shocker—possibly better than the novel.
For one thing, it has Ralph Fines as Heathcliff. He's perfect—as a young man a rough-hewn but sensitive character we can well imagine Catherine committing herself to protect and love forever, and as an older man the profoundly tormented individual who is turned into a chillingly cold villain. The transformation is believable, as are his occasional relapses into obsessive love behaviour.
The same goes for Juliette Binoche as Catherine. She too is mesmerizing, in a manner not expected of this actress, perhaps better known for more off-beat roles. In some ways her character is more difficult to portray, as she must vacillate between expressing the deep bond with Heathcliff and being attracted to the advantages of the aristocratic life that she and Heathcliff appear to disdain.
And she pulls it off. In the scenes with Fines particularly, she's adorably compulsive watching. (The two actors would pair again a few years later in another romance, The English Patient, but not as each other's love interest.)
This version of Wuthering Heights does continue past Catherine's death and makes the next generation's events appear an integral part of the story. Using Binoche to play the younger Cathy however yields mixed results: she keeps reminding us (and Heathcliff, no doubt) of the late Catherine, which may be seen as either a good thing or a bad thing.
But overall this is a brilliant adaptation. A film that really deserves to be a "classic" if critics—who generally gave the film negative reviews and had probably never read the book since school days—can get over the Olivier version that usually (and undeservedly, in my opinion) gets that honour.
It could even be renamed Better than Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights.
COMMENTARY | MOVIES