Wuthering Heights (1992)
First screened in December 1994 / Reviewed in April 1998
Director: Peter Kosminsky. Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Janet McTeer, Simon Shepherd, Jeremy Northam, Jason Riddington, Sophie Ward, Sinéad O'Connor. Screenplay: Anne Devlin (from the novel by Emily Brontë). Twitter Capsule:
Grasps story's scale and tenor better than other versions, but stilted nonetheless. Fiennes, Binoche disappoint.
Insistence on tackling the whole novel makes this version stand out, rendering it useful for teaching. Still, fans of the book or the stars may only sense blown opportunities.
Ed. June 2014:And here's how it all started, more or less: the second review I wrote for the site, I believe, after the one for Primary Colors. Not the most auspicious outing, and a humbling reminder of how I'd always intended to dash off quick capsules like this for every movie I saw. You'll also note how easy it is to twig that I hadn't seen the movie all that recently. Kids, don't try that at home!
The primary problem with this adaptation of Wuthering Heights is emotional distance, even a certain shallowness, qualities that begin with Peter Kosminsky's superficially "dark" direction but extend to Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche as the famous lovers Heathcliff and Cathyand which no interpretation of Brontë's tempestuously passionate characters can afford to confer. Too bad this staging of the novel, never theatrically released in the States, was not made five years later, when its stars had gleaned even more experience in rich, challenging films and might have fared better than they do here.
As it is, Kosminsky's Wuthering Heights scores points for ambition but little else. Unlike the famous 1939 version with Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier, Kosminsky's movie takes on the whole novel, rather than just the first-generation drama among the elder Cathy, Heathcliff, and his eventual and unexpected rival Edgar Linton (Simon Shepherd). The new film not only bothers to portray the second generation of Earnshaws and Lintons but, through devices like the double-casting of Binoche as her own daughter, it explores the eerie parallels of character that cross from one era of the narrative to the next. The film also sports some striking locations, and it isn't interested in playing up the "period" through gowns and sets beyond what seems fit for a rough-hewn farming enclave in an austere region of northern England.
That said, Wuthering Heights constantly suffers under the charmless, formless work of Fiennes and Binoche, two actors who have become unfailingly charismatic as their careers have continued but who are either intimidated by the cultural stature of this story or confounded at this early stage in their careers by the psychological complexities of these characters. Whatever the case, they make these folks none too interesting and fail entirely to project the kind of organic connection that keep Cathy and Heathcliff's union intact despite tangible boundaries of property and geography, not to mention the greater barriers of life and death, which Cathy in particular seems harrowingly able to cross. Janet McTeer, a renowned actress who recently won the Tony for her Doll's House on Broadway, unfortunately sinks into the background, such that the film marginalizes (as all previous versions have done) the complicated, potentially subversive character of Nelly, Catherine's servant.
A Wuthering Heights with no passion is like a Misérables with no uprising: the single ingredient that provides plot and theme for the entire work, without which nothing really functions. The stars' later notoriety, as well as a bizarre framing device with Sinéad O'Connor as Emily Brontë, should keep the film alive as a curio for Brontë scholars or enthusiasts of oddball casting. For anyone else, though, this film, like the ornery Heathcliff, is probably best left alone. Grade:C