Director: Peter Hammond | 250 minutes | drama, romance | Actors: Richard Kay, Ken Hutchinson, Cathryn Harrison, David Wilkinson, David Robb, Caroline Langrishe, Brian Wilde, Kay Adshead, John Collin, Patricia Healey, Pat Heywood, Paul Dawkins, John Duttine, Maggie Wilkinson, Dennis Burgess, Wendy Williams
Most everyone knows the tragic story of Heathcliff and Catherine, described in Emilie Brontë’s book Wuthering Heights. The story has been reenacted, filmed and even sung about several times. This 1978 version is a five-part series filmed by the BBC. BBC screen adaptations are generally well known, because they stay close to the atmosphere and story of the book and tastefully film it. In terms of story, the BBC has also stayed close to the book on this series.
Mister Lockwood (Kay) – Thrusscross Grange’s new tenant – finds a dark, blunt and almost aggressive group of people in Wuthering Heights when he stops by to meet his landlord Mister Heathcliff (Hutchinson). If he wants to go home in the snow at night, but is afraid that he will not be able to find his way back, no one wants to accompany him and he stays asleep. In his sleep he is haunted by bad dreams and the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw (Adshead). From then on we go back to the past, where young Heathcliff is taken in by the Earnshaw family. He is despised by Hindley (Duttine), the son, but slowly grows towards Catherine, the daughter. When the father dies, Hindley takes over the household. He humiliates Heathcliff, who is now only allowed to serve as a servant. Heathcliff becomes very bitter because of this and keeps moving away from Cathy, who is more and more associating with the neighbors, the Linton family.
Heathcliff faces another disappointment when he overhears a conversation between Cathy and the maid Ellen (Heywood), in which Cathy says she has said yes to a marriage proposal from Edgar Linton (Robb). She has done this because she feels that Heathcliff is no match for her now that he has been lowered too much by her brother. She marries Edgar and Heathcliff flees and is away for three years. When he returns, he finds Hindley, who is drowning in alcohol because his wife has died. Heathcliff himself has become a wealthy man through shady practices and takes advantage of Hindley’s alcoholism by gambling to win Wuthering Heights from him. When he starts visiting Cathy again regularly, Isabella Linton shows an interest in him. Cathy manipulatively tries to keep Heathcliff to herself, but when he seems to lose his heart to Isabella (Langrishe), Cathy slowly but surely goes insane.
The dark atmosphere that is so characteristic of the book is well incorporated in the film. The general feeling of disappointment with all characters and the destructive way in which they deal with this is very palpable. One drowns in alcohol, the other in aggression and the next in mean games. Hutchinson well portrays Heathcliff as a bitter and closed man who takes revenge on anyone who he feels has offended him. Adshead convincingly portrays Cathy as a manipulative and jealous woman, who cannot bear her own character and ultimately perishes by herself. But the downside to such a story and such characters is that actors tend to over-act quickly. The characters in “Wuthering Heights” therefore scream too often and laugh. The biggest flaw of this series, however, is the way it was filmed. The outdoor images of the atmospheric English landscape were shot on film, but the studio images were recorded with video and the set and lighting are so simple that it almost looks like you are looking at a stage. The images are mixed together and this creates such a big difference in realism that it is disturbing and takes you out of the story. And this is a shame, because because of this the outdated techniques leave too much of a mark on the series. As a result, the good elaboration of the story is too often overlooked, with the result that the series is not the atmospheric film adaptation it could have been.