I just watched the first episode of the Masterpiece Classic version of Wuthering Heights, starring Tom Hardy as Heathcliff, Charlotte Riley as Cathy, and Andrew Lincoln as Edgar Linton. I liked it as a film, but there were some kind of odd choices made that I’m not really sure about. I see why they didn’t want to bother with the Mr. Lockwood frame story, because he’s kind of a pointless character, but in that case I feel they should have just started at the beginning of the story. Instead they pick up in the middle, when Edgar takes his nephew Linton to live at the Heights with Heathcliff. What a weird place to start the story! I thought it was very strange, and I don’t really get the reason for that. It follows young Catherine as she discovers Linton and goes up until Heathcliff traps her at the Heights. The night before Catherine is to marry her cousin, it goes into flashback to the night that Heathcliff joined the Earnshaw family. It’s a weird transition, unnecessary, and confusing. Better to have started at the beginning.

The other issue I’ve noticed has to do with the way time passes, or doesn’t seem to pass. The characters are just way too old way too early in the story. I understand the practical considerations of needing to cast adult actors, but it really seems bizarre in places. Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship is one between young adolescents, and it’s weird to see it acted out between full grown adults. The scene when Cathy and Heathcliff sneak onto the grounds of Thrushcross Grange and spy on Edgar and Isabella feels all wrong because of this. I don’t think that the book specifies how old they were for that episode, but I always pictured kids of about thirteen or fourteen. Riley and Hardy are obviously in their early twenties and it just doesn’t really work. Then all of the events of the story seem to happen very close together, rather than being stretched out over months and years. It’s just a little odd. And Nelly is portrayed as much older than the other main characters, when she ought to be just about Hindley’s age, which I feel like is a fairly important detail, although less so in this adaptation. Nelly’s importance as a character is lessened overall in this adaptation, because she’s no longer the narrator.

Since we’re not hearing the story through Nelly, we get to see a lot of scenes between Cathy and Heathcliff that we never see in the book. I was very interested to see that Masterpiece decided to make their relationship explicitly sexual (I don’t mean that the sex itself is explicit, just that it’s made explicitly clear that they had sex). This really surprised me. It’s obviously not addressed in the text, since the reader only knows what Nelly knows about the relationship, and if they had slept together it would have been a secret. As poor a guardian as Nelly often was, I think even she would have had a problem with that. I suppose it’s plenty believable that Cathy and Heathcliff might have slept together, but I always imagined their passion was unconsummated. The obsession they had for each other always read to me like unfulfilled desire. Not that having sex once or would dim the fires that much, but that’s just how it read to me. I’m curious whether anyone else has an opinion. Do you think Cathy and Heathcliff ever had sex?

The performances in this adaptation are quite good, but it’s a little bizarre to see Tom Hardy and Andrew Lincoln, whom my fellow US nerds probably know best as Bane from the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises and Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead, respectively, in these roles. They are both excellent. I am deeply disturbed by how sexy I find Tom Hardy’s Heathcliff. That is… not healthy. I do think that the script is a little too forgiving of Cathy and doesn’t really show what a selfish and terrible person she is. A lot of the complexity and dark humor of the novel is, understandably, lost. I’m sure this is an incredibly difficult novel to adapt for film, because the characters are so dreadful and unlikeable. It’s one of my favorite novels mostly because the characters are so awful. But this is quite a good attempt. I’m enjoying watching it.

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