Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel Wuthering Heights opened up a life of passionate love and lustful vengeance in a world of desolation on the Yorkshire moors of England. Her tale of a mysterious gypsy boy raised as a young child in an adopted home leads into his fiery romance with his foster sister, Cathy, and their imminent feverish end. Through their tragic flaws and their constant inability to completely accept each other, Cathy and Heathcliff head in opposite directions in the hopes of finally coming together, leaving a wake of infliction on anyone they used as a means to an end. After Cathy’s death, Heathcliff continues his rampage on the next generation: Hindley’s son, Cathy’s daughter, and Heathcliff’s own son. However, this generation has a taste for a less toxic life and eventually overcome the poison of Heathcliff’s past.
Though many film and television adaptions of Wuthering Heights have been made, the ones I will be focusing on (1992, 2009, and 2011) have been chosen because they each depict not only the story of Wuthering Heights but the characters, sights, and sounds of Wuthering Heights in much different ways with varying levels of accuracy. However, each of these movies captures the novel’s greed and self-imposed ache for a relationship that is only distanced by stubbornness.
In the 1992 version, Juliette Binoche (Cathy) and Ralph Fiennes (Heathcliff) bring out the extremely aggravating essence of the novel (more so than most previous versions) to a widely receptive audience, as this seems to be one of them most popular and accurate versions today. Because it cast two well-known actors in the main roles, the 1992 version reached a larger audience than most versions before it. Binoche and Fiennes bring a very vital part of Cathy and Heathcliff to the screen: a love that has a seemingly avoidable tragic end. However, they also bring to light the conflict within that, the fact that for their relationship to be successful, Cathy would have to stop being the woman that Heathcliff loved in the first place, and vice versa. In this version, Cathy is headstrong and hot-blooded, adverse to any sort of entrapment and consequentially becoming entrapped by her own greed. It is very evident in this version that she appears to bend easily in the wind (getting a taste for finer things, choosing Edgar over Heathcliff for wealth, coming right back to Heathcliff when he himself gains wealth, etc.), but it is also quite obvious that she is as hard as a mountain (manipulating Heathcliff to keep him on the hook, making a strategic marriage for wealth and status, and balancing Edgar and Heathcliff after Heathcliff’s return). Their absolute devotion to each other is most seen after Cathy’s death, when her ghost returns to Wuthering Heights pleading to “come home” to Heathcliff and the life she gave up, just as Heathcliff pleads to Cathy’s corpse to come back, to not go where he could not find her.
The 2009 BBC Masterpiece Classic version, with Tom Hardy (Heathcliff) and Charlotte Riley (Cathy), is one of the most entertaining versions of today, mostly used in high school Literature classes as a way to help students past the archaic diction. Though it leaves out the visitor, Mr. Lowood, it quite effortlessly “makes the rest of the movie more like the book than the book actually is,” as a Mrs. Julie Neilson once pointedly said. In other words, it brings more life and truth to the book to flesh it out and to make it much more accessible to modern audiences (i.e. high school students). This version has brought an advent to classical films and period dramas as well as classic novels. It became the bridge between modern entertainment and classic literature. It also brought an unrepresented female archetype into the mix. Cathy is portrayed as an extremely strong-willed, motivated woman who is not passive and does not depend on anyone else to make her own decisions. She loves fiercely, if misguidedly, and does not apologize for what she has done to ensure her survival.
Just as the original 1847 novel was seen as risqué and displeased audiences who would rather skip over the dirty details of life on the moors, the 2011 version once again brings the desolation and unsavoriness of the moors into the public eye. Wuthering Heights is no longer candy coated or romanticized. It is shown in the conditions that it took place in. Although this is the least accurate version in the sense of plot and characters, the film does an excellent job portraying the setting and romance honestly. The movie has no soundtrack, only traditional songs sung by the actors on screen and the sounds of nature on the Yorkshire moors. It’s eerie, the quiet only being disrupted by howling wind, screeching birds, and sloshing mud. It’s not a romantic setting, and Cathy and Heathcliff’s romance is as rough as its surroundings. So, while the 2009 version opened up viewers to classic novels and period films, the 2011 version gave them a reality check into what life was really like on the moors as well as some insight into why Cathy and Heathcliff’s lives ended the way they did.
This brings an entirely new light to Heathcliff’s plead to “be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I can not live without my soul!” For Heathcliff and Cathy, there is no reason for them to live on the bleak moors without the light they bring each other. This idea that sometimes love is not sweet, or kind, or beautiful has taught our society that beautiful and conventional love is not always stronger than love that is ugly and irrational.