Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Wuthering Heights (1939)

Wuthering Heights is my favourite novel, and I must admit I approach its film adaptations with some trepidation. I don’t feel as if there is a definitive film version of what some have called an impossible novel to film, and whilst it is not perfect, William Wyler’s 1939 version certainly has some 'right' elements. 

The film depicts the first half of Emily Bronte’s famous novel, and leaves out the second half which deals with the second generation at Wuthering Heights. This is quite common in film adaptions of the book. 
Laurence Olivier, who is great as Heathcliff, wanted his future wife Vivien Leigh to be cast as Cathy (she too wanted the part) but studio obligations saw Merle Oberon being cast instead. Leigh was offered the role of Isabella but declined, (at the time she wasn’t well known enough to be cast in the pivotal role of Cathy).
Oberon’s Cathy lacks the wild vindictiveness of the Cathy in the novel, and in some ways is a ‘nicer’ version. One cannot help but wonder what Cathy would have been like in the hands of Leigh who played a similar, wilful character in the years top film, Gone With the Wind.

Ellen the housekeeper also becomes somewhat ‘sanitized’, unlike in the novel, where she actively abhors Heathcliff, and shuns Cathy’s behaviour, the Ellen in the film looks upon both with pity. Even rejoicing at their reunion through death.  Whilst in the novel her motives are unclear, and her trustworthiness is doubted, in the film she is a noble woman, who looks after her charges and relishes in their final reunion.

However on the whole the film is a good one, and whilst not entirely faithful to the book, it is enjoyable and moving to watch. The wildness of the moors are beautiful even in black and white, and Olivier is commanding as Heathcliff, yet still inspires pity from the audience. Cathy's death and the final scene are  haunting. 


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