It’s not an easy task, I wouldn’t think, to adapt a novel as truly classic as Wuthering Heights and make its primarily internalised narrative available to viewers without us having to simply accept on faith much of the main protagonists’ motivations.
However, with major TV hits such as Occupation and Desperate Romantics under his increasingly successful belt, Peter Bowker could well have been voted Man Most Likely To Do It Well, and he didn’t disappoint with this adaptation for ITV.
Well, not entirely, although true Brontë connoisseurs may well argue that with Bowker’s reportedly – literally – taking a Stanley knife to the original book in order to arrange it into a coherent and hence more transferable-to-screen timeline, he butchered some of the original essence and culled some of the characters too.
And this is in part true; the swapping around of the names Catherine and Cathy was rather unnecessary and smacked of perhaps the equivalent of a tomcat peeing on his territory to make it known it’s his. The fact is, taking liberties with Brontë is dangerous territory, but if you accept that any adaptation must, by it’s very nature, include similar territorial markings, then it has to be said that Bowker did a good job of them.
We had Nelly – the housekeeper beautifully portrayed by the ever reliable Sarah Lancashire – taking over the role of narrator from the original character of Lockwood, but given that Sarah turns anything she touches on screen into gold, that was a step that I found acceptable, especially given how well she did it.
Bowker also took some chances by casting the relatively unknown actress Charlotte Riley in the enormously large historical shoes of Catherine Earnshaw, and although she by no means butchered the role, she wasn’t quite as convincing in it as Tom Hardy was as Heathcliff. His remit of course included much brooding and dark, tragedy inspired madness, but he managed to do it without making it seem clunky.
However, I have one niggle over the Riley-Hardy combo; the on-screen chemistry between them didn’t adequately parlay the written version of Cathy and Heathcliff’s destructive love. That all important spark-that-becomes-an-inferno passion was conspicuous by its absence, but while it didn’t damage the overall effect of this very watchable drama, it didn’t add anything to it either.
But while I wasn’t left breathless by the love scenes, the ever eerie and horribly evocative ghostly hand breaking the window scene made up for a lot, and Heathcliff’s disinterment of Catherine was vivid and spooky too.
The rather stellar cast more than compensated for some of the adaptation’s faux pas’s also; Burn Gorman was excellent as the horrid Hindley, as was Andrew Lincoln as Edgar. Indeed, Lincoln added depths to the character that were missing in the written version, but he managed to do so while staying faithful to Linton’s original character, so plaudits are due there.
Another Bowker feat is in fitting the whole thing into two 75 minute slots, and it’s no mean one to do so without leaving out vast swathes of the story, but so far, he’s managed it. The final proof of this pudding will be in tonight’s conclusion of course when we’ll get to see if he has in fact mutilated the original to fit the slot, or, if by hint and narration, we get to see the full story in compact form.
Certainly last night’s offering made me wish I owned a big, flouncy frock and long, wild tresses so that I may run across mist strewn moors and conduct a torrid love affair among the bracken and heather. But I don’t, so I won’t, but armed with a glass of wine and having dressed my living room with lamplight, I might just be able to imagine I could…