Wuthering Heights: there’ll be another one along in a minute (2)

More on Wuthering Heights, the film versions.

Another thing you have to do is to decide what to do with the violence. There are several astonishing outbursts of it in the novel – not just the attempted shooting (and there is a knife attached to the gun, which slices Hindley’s arm as Heathcliff snatches it away) and the rubbing of the child-ghost’s hand on the glass. A knife is thrown at Isabella. Puppies are hanged from a chair. And Heathcliff hits Cathy’s daughter very hard: “a shower of terrific slaps” on either side of the head. Amazingly, almost every director bottles these, and Giedroye is the first really to show the extent of the physical vengeance Heathcliff wreaks on Hindley for trying to shoot him.

And then there is the vexed question of the house itself. Kosminksy pictures a huge, ornate, cavernous, Gothic building for the Heights, and Giedroye follows so closely, you might almost think it was the same building. Fuest, Wyler and Skynner go for what is much more obvious: cramped and quite spartan conditions.

Robert Cavanah in Skynner's version

Robert Cavanah in Skynner's version

And then: how do you do Heathcliff? Olivier does his usual shtick. In Fuest’s version, Timothy Dalton (before his James Bond days) does Mills and Boon smouldering. Kosminsky has Ralph Fiennes in furs, like some wild animal. Tom Hardy, in Giedroye’s new version, is sullen. The surprise one (and the one I like) is Robert Cavanah in Skynner’s version: the only authentic northerner, a diminutive and testy figure with a greater range of emotions.

But every film has its strengths. David Niven (Wyler) was pretty well born to play Edgar, who is too much of a sniveller in every other version, and Juliette Binoche (playing both Cathys in Kosminksy’s version) is the best female lead, giving the best reading of the great ‘My love for Heathcliff is like the eternal rocks beneath’ speech, and this despite the occasional hint of French. The best young Cathy is Sarah Smart in Skynner’s version.

Sarah Lancashire as Nelly in Giedroye's version

Sarah Lancashire as Nelly in Giedroye's version

As you can see, I don’t think Fuest (who cuts the great speech) has much to recommend him, although Harry Andrews is the best Mr. Earnshaw (Hindley and Cathy’s father). If I had to vote, I’d go with Skynner overall, because he resists the temptation to make the whole thing too overblown. Kosminsky nevertheless has the best cinematography, the best landscapes, and a wonderful Sakamoto soundtrack.

Giedroye tries something very hard. Many versions omit the second half, but Giedroye starts in the middle of it, so that the viewer has to ask ‘How did it come to this?’ That was very bold. And, to add to my list, Sarah Lancashire was brilliant casting as Nelly Dean, even given a slightly inadequate script. And as Hindley, Burn Gorman is streets ahead of any other interpretation (aided by Joseph Taylor as the poisonous child-version of Hindley). It wasn’t a total disaster, it took interesting liberties with the plot, and – ad-breaks apart – it did capture the way old Earnshaw unwittingly unleashes a sequence of disasters.

Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes in Kosminksy's version

Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes in Kosminsky's version

No-one is ever going to get this film right, unless it is four hours long. No-one, interestingly, has ever filmed the scene in which Hindley drops his infant son Hareton over a banister, where he is caught by Heathcliff, to Heathcliff’s regret. You can’t ever beat the structure of the novel, and the way it compresses and expands the action. But I am ready to see somebody else try, even if I admit, this has become something of an academic exercise for me …

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