Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wuthering Heights (1970)

Year: 1970
Rated: G in the United States, A/PG in the UK.
Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Tagline - The power, the passion, the terror of Emily Bronte's unforgettable love story.

First Viewing - December, 2007 on DVD.

Adaptation Accuracy/Dialogue - Following in the footsteps of WH ' 39, 1970's version only tells of the first generation but it does so in a rather strange way. Whereas most versions whisk over Hindley Earnshaw's downward spiral, or make it a secondary plot point, this adaptation treats it almost as equally as the main love story while underplaying the characters of Edgar and Isabella Linton.

From the beginning, the movie takes a more sympathetic look at Hindley. For some reason never explained, (in the book as well as this movie) his father detests him and thinks he's not nearly as good as Heathcliff. This hatred is somewhat unmerited when Hindey's tutor tells Mr. Earnshaw that his son would benefit from going to college since he is (apparently) a very good student. Earnshaw sends him off, mostly to get him out of his hair.

After this, the plot pretty much goes along normally with Hindley returning with Frances and then becoming a drunken wastrel after her death. Heathcliff buys the Heights and feeds Hindley's addiction while wooing Isabella and torturing Cathy. Controversially, (at least to me), Hindley actually succeeds in his revenge plan by shooting Heathcliff shortly after his sister's death. Heathcliff chases her ghost and finally dies. His spirit is then shown running off with Cathy. Then the credits roll, so we can assume that Hindley remains the owner of Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff's revenge plan is foiled.

As far as framing goes, WH '70 begins at Cathy's funeral where Heathcliff observes from a distance. It then cuts back a few years with Nelly's narration and forgoes Lockwood. There is some character accuracies/inaccuracies that I'll go into further below. The dialogue is semi-faithful...probably C level. Most notably, the "I am Heathcliff" scene is very underplayed and treated like any other scene.

Heathcliff - (Timothy Dalton, age 26) Out of all the Heathcliffs I've seen, Timothy Dalton is probably the youngest looking. He is one of the youngest actors to play him as well. Although it shouldn't be that big of a factor, physical embodiment of the character is at least half the role. (I mean, you wouldn't cast Tobey Maguire as Heathcliff, even if he could personify all of the right looks and actions and vocal inflections, would you now?) Where most Heathcliffs thrive after they've traded in their stable boy rags for velvet overcoats, Dalton is best as an unrefined heathen. Age again? I don't know. You can see for yourself that although Dalton is young, he is not baby faced and would be considered "ruggedly handsome." Amazingly, Timothy Dalton has also played Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind's sequel Scarlett and 007 himself, James Bond so you would think he would be able to channel the snarky sophistication gentleman Heathcliff is known for.

Cathy Earnshaw - (Anna Calder-Marshall, age 23) Like Angela Scoular in WH '67, Anna Calder-Marshall portrays Cathy as young and immature, but with less motivation or thought. Plus, she has a weird way of pronouncing things and a high pitched voice. Like Dalton, Calder-Marshall has the right kind of youthful look often absent from Wuthering Heights adaptations but still looks like a woman in her 20's vs. a girl in her teens. This Cathy is irritating, possibly the most irritating due to her weird character choices.

Edgar Linton - (Ian Ogilvy, age 27) How is it that Edgar keeps getting the shaft? He is one of the most important characters in WH, and one of the few that survives both generations. But again, here he is as a plot device rather than an active character with feelings. Still, I enjoy some of his scenes such as the one right after Heathcliff leaves and when he brings Cathy flowers while she is ill. Then again Ogilvy isn't really into his role, it appears, but look what he has to work with!

Isabella Linton - (Hilary Heath Dwyer, age 25) This is the least sympathetic Isabella ever. I must say, that's certainly a change. Usually Heathcliff is shown entirely to blame for "seducing" Isabella into a seemingly romantic marriage. But Isabella is shown not as a lonely sheltered princess, but as a whiny spoiled brat. Since I have no sympathy for her, I almost look forward to Heathcliff's abuse of her.

Hindley Earnshaw - (Julian Glover, age 35) In the only version of Wuthering Heights to mildly concentrate on Hindley, you would hope that his characterization would be more in depth than previous versions. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but it's nothing special. Yes, there is more of him, but he really doesn't develop any. From his drunken stupor, we don't see him realize the error of his ways, rise from the ashes and calculate on killing Heathcliff. He just does it. It's like a weird alternate world where the story ends suddenly. A "what if" version, if you will. So what if Hindley killed Heathcliff? Does he remain owner of the Heights or does he lose ownership to someone else because of his alcoholism?

Frances Earnshaw - (Morag Hood, age 28) There's definitely more Frances in this one. We actually have a scene after Hareton's birth. Usually they jump straight to Hindley drowning his sorrows with a motherless baby crying the background. Frances is shown sympathetically and likable, as she should be, but there isn't much of a window into her character.

Nelly Dean - (Judy Cornwall, age 30) Nelly is my favorite part of this whole movie. Finally, she is shown as young and as involved in the story. Some readers (such as yours truly) have romantically linked Nelly to Hindley. That is inescapable in this version. Although never referred to through dialogue, it's done through looks and expression (and Cathy excitedly and knowingly announcing Hindley's return to Nelly). Nelly narrates that she is the only one who misses him when he leaves for college. When he returns from school, she is nervous about seeing him and wants to look her best. Of course, her romantic dreams are smashed when Frances is revealed. Insult is added to injury when she, along with Joseph and Heathcliff are sent to live above the stables. And then Nelly has to take care of Hareton after Frances dies. The scene between the two of them is touching. After Nelly moves to the Grange with Cathy, her romantic feelings for Hindley are never touched upon again and sadly, her character's importance is also diminished. One has to wonder what happens in this version with Hindley still alive...

Joseph - (Aubrey Woods) Joseph is Joseph.

Costumes/Character Appearances -Again, 1780's costumes are used, but they are not terribly fancy and seem to have 70's fabric. Everyone looks fairly fitting to their character with Hindley being the only one I think is too old physically and he should have dark brown hair like Cathy.

Sets/Filming Locations - As good as to be expected.

Music - This is a Golden Globe nominated score, a first and only for Wuthering Heights adaptations. And yes, it is good, in a 70's kind of way. I actually own it on record. The main theme is hauntingly and good for Wuthering Heights, however the other motifs are weak.

Overall Likes - Nelly's youth; Nelly's unrequited love for Hindley; Heathcliff and Cathy's appearances; The music; Mrs. Earnshaw's suspicion of Heathcliff being her husband's bastard; The scene with the mud; "I'll give him something you have not known!"; Heathcliff chasing Cathy's ghost.

Overall Dislikes - Cathy's whiny voice; Edgar and Isabella too different; Hindley attacking the random maid; Too many servants (yeah, I know it's accurate); The "I am Heathcliff" scene outside; Heathcliff and Cathy making out with a branch; Heathcliff requesting a tumble from Isabella; Heathcliff running around with the fire poker; Hindley killing Heathcliff.

Final Thoughts - Like I said, Nelly is my favorite part of this version. If she had been portrayed as an older woman like in all the other versions, it would probably be my least favorite. It has good parts, but not many. With the single generation adaptations, I can't help but wonder why they don't spend more time on Hindley, Frances, Edgar, Isabella, and Nelly. Focusing on Heathcliff and Cathy is a problem with all versions, but at least the ones with the second generation have a time crunch excuse.

There is a particular scene where Cathy and Heathcliff's affair turns from just emotional to physical. The two make out in a wooded area for a good three minutes until they are interrupted by Isabella. I don't really care for it when sex is brought into the story. Cathy's a bitch but I don't think she actually commit adultery. Also the forced romance of the scene is laughable.

It did get me thinking about "what if" versions of Wuthering Heights though. What if Isabella refused to marry Heathcliff? What if Heathcliff didn't leave after hearing it would degrade Cathy to marry him? What if Cathy and Edgar weren't married when Heathcliff returned? What if Hindley didn't turn to booze and raised his son properly? What if Mr. Earnshaw treated all his children equally? Theories are springing up in my mind, but then the story simply would not be Wuthering Heights.

P.S. WH '70 has the best movie posters...


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