Avoid if faitful renditions mean something
Andrew Raker | PA | 12/17/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
Firstly, I am not critiquing the cinematography of any of the three films in this collection. (The cinematography of the 1967 "Wuthering Heights" and 1983 "Jane Eyre" are quite aweful but then again, a lot of television adaptations from the 1980s or before do not meet 21st century standards.)
My review critiques most the rendition of the novels - (1) Is the characterization correct? (2) Has the plotline been significantly altered?
Jane Eyre (1983) Individual rating: 5 stars
This BBC version of Jane Eyre starring Timothy Dalton is the best version I have seen. Compared with the Miramax 1996 version, 1997 A&E version, or 2006 Masterpiece adaptation, this 1983 adaptation is considerably better. [However, Jayston's characterization of Rochester in the 1973 adaptation is more accurate to Charlotte Bronte's intent.]
What I liked about the BBC 1983 version is that I can picture the characters in their respective roles. For example, Timothy Dalton is everything I imagined Edward Fairfax Rochester as being - smart, sarcastic, cynical, etc (even if he is too handsome). In addition, Zelah Clarke plays Jane Eyre very well. She brings a serious tone to Jane's character. Some television editions of Jane Eyre 'tick me off' by having an older teenager girl (who has no maturity) play this important role. The acting does not convince me and ruins the film.
Finally, this film appeals to me because it takes much of the dialogue straight from the book. Certainly, there are a few minor scenes from the book that are left out or slightly compressed. However, for the most part, this film is perfectly loyal to the novel. In fact, I probably shouldn't say, but this film is so accurate that you could probably pass a reading comprehension test on the novel "Jane Eyre" simply by watching this film one or two times and taking notes.
I also recommend the 1973 BBC "Jane Eyre" adaptation. (In fact, I think the 1973 adaptation has the better characterization, although a slightly less-faithful plot in areas that do not much matter such as when Jane is roaming the countrside after fleeing Thornfield Hall.)
Wuthering Heights (1967) Individual rating: 2 stars [black and white]
Now, let me say that this adaptation of Wuthering Heights, 1967, is NOT worthy of being called a BBC classic, as the cover tries to convince the potential buyer.
Answer: Because the plot of this production is horribly badly because it alters important dialogue. It is the equivalent of a Hamlet production, by the BBC under the label "classic," where Hamlet says "Should I kill myself or no?" instead of "To be or not to be, that is the question?"
Yet, the plot is not the only problem. Also, Ian McShane is too old to play Heathcliff, at least the teenage scenes (which have been altered into youth adult scenes thanks to horrible script-writing).
Born in 1942, this MAN (Ian McShane) plays Heathcliff for the whole film, except for the first eight minutes, when some little five year old (or someone who appears five) is brought home by Mr. Earnshaw from Liverpool. Now, I understand the desire for constancy in acting. Four different individuals playing Heathcliff over 30 years might make some viewers disappointed. Yet, in this adaptation, how can anyone feel sorry for Heathcliff when 50 pages of the novel are removed - the most important 50 pages in understand why Heathcliff becomes so bitter and angry. Forgive me, but when 25 year old Ian McShane loses 23 year old Angela Scoular so some other actor playing an equally elderly Edgar Linton, I just do not feel much sympathy for the approximately 16 year old Heathcliff of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, who runs away from Wuthering Heights after Cathy says, "Marrying Heathcliff would degrade me."
Now, I understand the 1992 adaptation, the 1998 adaptation, and the 2009 adaptation are also unfaithful portrayals of a wondering work of literature. Yet, this adaptation takes first prize. I simply wonder why the producers just didn't have Ian McShane as the bundle Mr. Earnshaw brings back from Liverpool. I do wonder what the script writer could possibly have been thinking by having other characters call Heathcliff a 'gypsy' at least 20 times. [Certainly, Heathcliff may have been a gypsy, just as he may have been something else. However, in this film, there is great concensus that Heathcliff is a stupid gypsy.]
Continuing with this point, MacShane plays a Heathcliff who reminds one of a highly evolved monkey. He is stupid - not passionate. He is gready for Cathy - not a soulmates with her, who suffered abuse as a teenager. Bronte's Heathcliff needs Cathy and relies upon her - he is the teenager who can accept all the bullies's abuses as long as the girl he loves, loves him back. Such a Heathcliff does not exist in this adaptation.
One Thing I ABSOLUTELY DETESTED about this adaptation:
If you read Emily Bronte's novel, you would learn that Heathcliff is a teenager when Mr. Earnshaw dies - 14 years of age is a good estimate. Now, imagine Hindley (who hates Heathcliff), taking a 14 year old boy, overworking him, repeatedly whipping him very severely, and keeping him from the one thing he loves and depends upon (his soulmate Cathy). All of this is non-existant in this film. Hindley's wife does not ever die until after Heathcliff has left Wuthering Heights. Therefore, all those wonderful scenes where a drunken Hindley takes out his anger on Heathcliff for his wife's death, are non-existent. Heathcliff and Catherine clearly have a childhood together, grow up together, and bond together as teenagers, but you would never know this based upon this sorry excuse for a film.
Wuthering Heights 1978 (most faithful adaptation)
Wuthering Heights 1998 (decent characterization but not perfect)
Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1997) Individual rating: 2 stars
I personally did not find this film adaptation of Anne Bronte's "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" to be very interesting. I did not give the film one star because the adaptation was not a complete disaster. There were some qualities in the film that I found admirable (for example: The film conveys the main theme of a male dominated society, where females have no power).
Unlike many people who gave the film adaptation a 5-star rating, I have actually read "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" in full. The penguin edition of the novel is 489 pages - considerably longer than Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." Unfortunately, the scriptwriter did not feel that it was acceptable to create a truly wonderful and well-developed mini-series from the novel. Instead, the film is a SHELL with no juicy plot inside and little character development.
Now, I am not saying that some people (especially people who are not literary scholars, but rather individuals who enjoy love stories) might not find the film interesting. I am simply saying that I was bored by the production.
In this adaptation, Hargrave rarely gets any screen time, Ralph and Helen Hattersley along with Lord Lowborough and Mr. Grimsby are forgotten, and Helen's live before marriage to Arthur is not portrayed in detail. In essence, the focus of this film is very limited. Since I have read the novel, this makes the film very boring - I am being given merely the skeleton of the plot. Furthermore, some elements of plot are altered (for example: the time, place, and context of Gilbert's confrontation with Frederick Lawrence, where Gilbert attacks Frederick).
I think it is in your best interest to purchase adaptations separately. If you wish to purchase all three adaptations, the price would make this collection a better deal. However, if you want to watch the most faithful adaptations, I would stay away from the Wuthering Heights in this collection. Unfortunately, there is no other adaptation of "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall."