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Ralph Fiennes is Heathcliff in this adaptation of Wuthering Heights, and Juliette Binoche is Cathy.  The story is well known, but in essence, Heathcliff is an orphan rescued by Cathy’s father, and they grow up together and fall in love.  However, Heathcliff is treated like a servant by Cathy’s brother, and Cathy ends up marrying Edgar Linton, a decent man, who she unfortunately does not live.  Heathcliff is both furious and devastated, and wreaks a revenge that will last well into the next generation.

The problem with Wuthering Heights, for me anyway, is that Cathy and Heathcliff are basically horrible, selfish people. He runs off for two years without a word to Cathy, and then gets a huff on when she marries someone else.  She cuckolds the man she marries, and is incredibly disrespectful to him, especially when Heathcliff takes it upon himself to return, and declare it all her fault.  He gets married himself, but treats his wife terribly, beating her up, amongst other things.  Obviously, that is essentially the way the characters are written in Bronte’s novel (sorry, but I don’t buy into all that tragic, undying love story – they both just wanted what they couldn’t have and didn’t care two hoots about who they hurt in their selfishness), and there is only so much that an adaptation can do to make the characters sympathetic.  That all said, there have been enjoyable adaptations of this book, but this was not one of them.

Ralph Fiennes is a fine actor, and does a reasonably good job as Heathcliff.  He is quite menacing, and pretty hateful.  Juliette Binoche however, seems wildly miscast as Cathy.  Her French accent can often be heard, and while she does have a lovely voice, she is very unconvincing as the Yorkshire born-and-bred Cathy.  Also, the point at which Heathcliff strops off and Cathy decides to ruin Edgar’s life (sorry, can you tell that these characters annoy me?) by marrying him, comes far too early in the film, so this great love that supposedly exists between Cathy and Heathcliff does not really seem to be all that deep, or great (or lovely).  Also, there is an annoying, but thankfully only occasional voiceover which narrates part of the story (in particular the parts where there is a jump in the timeline), which is supposed to be that of Emily Bronte.  Bronte herself actually appears as a character, played by Sinead O’Connor, bookending the film, by appearing at the beginning and ending of it.  Her narration at the beginning actually serves to remind the viewer that this is a fictional story.

On the positive side, Simon Shepherd did a great job as Edgar Linton, and Sophie Ward was very good in her minor role as Isabella.  However, the standout performance for me was Ellen, Cathy’s maid, played by Janet McTeer, who shone in every scene that she was in.

I think maybe there is a bit too much story to fit into a film of one hour and 45 minutes, and some of the storyline does seem a bit rushed.  Overall, I would say that this is not a terrible film, but it’s not brilliant.  Worth seeing for McTeer and Shepherd’s performance, but be prepared to want to throw things at the screen every time Heathcliff or Cathy bemoans their lot.

Year of release: 1992

Director: Peter Kosminsky

Producers: Simon Bosanquet, Mary Selway, Chris Thompson

Writers: Emily Bronte (novel), Anne Devlin

Main cast: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Janet McTeer, Sophie Ward, Simon Shepherd, Jeremy Northam, Jason Riddington

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This the third adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma that I have watched recently, and the fourth one that I have watched overall, so I try to take each one on its own merits, but it’s hard not to compare.  In this version, Gwyneth Paltrow plays the main character and Jeremy Northam plays Mr Knightley.

Obviously in a two hour film, events move much quicker than in a mini series, and some parts of the book are completely glossed over, so it feels a bit like a condensed version (the last two adaptations I watched were both mini series).  However, it is a decent retelling of the story of Emma Woodhouse, a young woman who has no desire to marry herself, but delights in trying to find matches for her friends.  However, events get out of hand and feelings are misunderstood when she attempts to fix up her friend Harriet Smith with the local viva Mr Elton.

I have mixed feelings about this, because I actually did really enjoy it, but also felt that some parts were miscast.  Paltrow did a good job as Emma, with an excellent British accent, and Jeremy Northam was not bad as Knightley, although I personally found him a bit bland.  Alan Cummings was superb as the snobbish and unkind Mr Elton – probably the high spot of the film.  However, the casting of Toni Collette as Harriet Smith was a mystery – she is such a good actress, but seemed totally wrong for this role.  Polly Walker, while undoubtedly beautiful, did not really seem the right fit for Jane Fairfax, seeming far too worldly and confident.  Ewan McGregor was the dashing Frank Churchill, although he was barely recognisable, partly due to a horrendous wig!  Although he seemed like an odd choice, he was fine, and more or less captured the character.  I didn’t really think Denys Hawthorne was right for Mr Woodhouse though – I always imagine the character to be a frail worrier, but here he just seemed too robust and hearty.  Also, I was very disappointed that John Knightley (Mr Knightley’s brother, who is married to Emma’s sister) was basically cut out of the story.  He appears very briefly in just one scene, and has just a couple of lines.  Although he is not one of the main characters in the story, I enjoy his character, and would like to have seen more of him (even the scene where he warns Emma of Mr Elton’s true intentions was not featured).

The Frank Churchill/Jane Fairfax storyline seemed to take second place to the Harriet Smith/Mr Elton storyline, which was a bit of a shame, but overall, the dialogue was sparkly and light-hearted, and I loved the shift from scene to scene, where dialogue would cross from one scene to another.

If I was to recommend a perfect adaptation, I would always choose the 2009 mini series with Romola Garai in the title role, but this is an amusing and entertaining enough version in its own right.

Year of release: 1996

Director: Douglas McGrath

Producers: Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Donna Gigliotti, Patrick Cassavetti, Donna Grey, Steven Haft

Writers: Jane Austen (novel), Douglas McGrath

Main cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, Alan Cummings, Toni Collette, James Cosmo, Greta Scacchi, Sophie Thompson

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Click here for my review of the novel.

Click here for my review of the 1972 mini series starring Doran Godwin.

Click here for my review of the 1996 television film starring Kate Beckinsale.

Click here for my review of the 2009 mini series starring Romola Garai.

Click here for my review of the 1995 film Clueless (adaptation of Emma).

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