For those who aren't familiar with the novel, Wuthering Heights takes place on the wild and stormy moors of Yorkshire, a setting which perfectly illuminates the turbulence of its characters. The novel is replete with death, misery, thwarted love, and inbreeding (at this time the union of first cousins was acceptable and often desirable). It is also marked by a notable lack of mothers, who rarely make it past childbirth, a fact which is not noted but clearly influences the lives of the characters. It is truly a soap opera but of the darkest and most disturbing order, supremely satisfying in its drama and captivating in its darkness.
The first and most obvious thing that struck me about the film was that it took out the layers of narration that stand between readers of the novel and its story. Whereas Bronte's tale of the Earnshaw and Linton families is merely repeated by an outsider who has the story narrated to him by a servant who is loyal to the family, the camera merely follows all the characters. While it splits its time between all the characters and story lines with the same attention paid to them in the novel, this erasure of the layers of narrations offers a deeper look at the story than Bronte gave. Because the story isn't filtered through the servant, Nelly, who has her own best interests to look out for and a stranger who doesn't really understand what happened or the people involved, the viewer is allowed more access to the characters. This of course comes at the price of some 21st century writer's interpretation of the text which can be risky but in this case turns out really well. Some liberties are taken, which is to be expected, but none are unreasonable and many the reader may have thought of on her own. It seems as though the film reveals what Nelly chose to censor, and you know that something that believable has got to be good.
Another benefit of the alteration in narration is the humanization of Heathcliff. Sure, he's still the classic villain - gambling, cheating, violent, disrespectful of other men's
For the strict 19th century-philes (is there a word for that?) out there, you may be disappointed that the costumes and music aren't exactly authentic to the time period but the score itself is quite lovely. You will quickly forget, or at least manage to ignore, any anachronisms in light of the quality of the film as a whole. It is upsetting, disturbing, and moving - everything I would expect from a film adaptation of Wuthering Heights. It's really quite well done, something I rarely say about films that are based on books (the other most notable exception being The Hours, one of my all-time favorite movies), and well worth your while. Fortunately, the film is available instantly on Netflix so you really have no excuse for not watching it immediately.
I'll leave you with an interesting little tidbit about the actors: Charlotte Riley and Tom Hardy, who play Cathy and Heathcliff, met on the set of the film, began dating, and are now engaged. A bit disturbing to think about really, once you've experienced their turbulent and destructive love.
If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. (Cathy, Chapter 9)