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This review relates to the 2009 two-part adaptation of Emily Bronte’s novel, which starred Tom Hardy as Heathcliff, and Charlotte Riley as Cathy.  (Minor spoilers for the storyline may be contained herein.)

It’s taken me a long time to see this, I admit partly because of some of the negative reviews it received when it first aired.  However, I wish I had watched it earlier, because I really enjoyed it very much.  The story is of course very well known, but briefly, it concerns the love between Heathcliff and his step-sister Cathy – a love which was all-consuming, very intense, and affected not just the two characters, but all around them as well, leading to jealousy, revenge and tragedy.

Tom Hardy was excellent as Heathcliff – it was easy to see how someone could fall in love with him as a young man, before loss and ill-treatment by other members of the family caused him to turn bitter and angry.  He was charming and likeable, but he was also entirely believable as an older Heathcliff, determined to make Cathy’s family suffer for the misery they had visited upon him.

Charlotte Riley was lovely as Cathy – a beautiful young girl with a promising future, but who seemed destined for one path in life despite wanting to choose another.  The chemistry between the two main characters was easy to see (and it’s no surprise to learn that after meeting on this production, they became a couple in real life).

Support was provided by Sarah Lancashire, who was excellent as Nelly, Cathy’s maid (and subsequently the maid to Cathy’s daughter Catherine).  Lancashire is a really amazing actress, who always brings her roles to life, and she made a big impact in this show.  Additionally, Andrew Lincoln plays Edgar, who becomes Cathy’s husband, but never the true love of her life.  He is an actor who I sometimes find quite wooden, but he was very good here.  Burn Gorman played Hindley, the brother of Cathy who always resented Heathcliff’s intrusion in their lives, and he was superb.  He totally encapsulated the cruel and spiteful nature of the character, and made me dislike him intensely.

The whole production is very atmospheric – which I think is very important in any telling of this tale – and the Yorkshire moors where the story is set is portrayed beautifully.  There is plenty of emotion – love, happiness, anger, shock, grief – and it all makes for a very moving and enjoyable production.  And it made me cry!

If you’re a fan of the book (or even if you’re not), and haven’t seen this yet, I highly recommend that you watch it.

Year of release: 2009

Director: Coky Giedroyc

Writers: Emily Bronte (book), Peter Bowker

Main cast: Ton Hardy, Charlotte Riley, Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Lancashire, Burn Gorman

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This is a BBC adaptation of Winifred Holtby’s novel of the same name, set in the 1930s.  I haven’t read the novel (although I would now like to), but that did mean that I had the advantage of enjoying the tv adaptation on it’s own merits, rather than comparing; and of course I didn’t know how it was going to end.

Anna Maxwell Martin is Sarah Burton, originally from the Yorkshire town of South Riding, who returns there to become headmistress of a girls’ school, after 20 years teaching in London and South Africa.  Sarah’s feminist beliefs raise a few eyebrows, especially when she announces that she wants the girls she teaches to realise that they can have a career and be whoever they want to be, rather than becoming a wife and mother as would expected.  Councillor Robert Carne (David Morrissey) is opposed to Sarah’s views, and initially the two don’t get on at all.  Relations between them do thaw, but there is tragedy in Robert’s past, which threatens to obstruct their budding relationship.

We also see the stories of Robert’s daughter Midge, who blames herself for her mother’s tragic fate; and Lydia, a young girl from a poor family, who is very intelligent, but her family need her to work rather than go to school.

John Henshaw is Councillor Huggins, an outwardly very religious and pious man, but his dalliance with a pert young girl from the village will have repercussions…

I really liked this period drama – it is darker than a lot of dramas from the same period, showing the difficulties of life for many of the villagers.  The central story between Sarah Burton and Robert Carne has shadows of Jane Eyre, but this does not necessarily mean that the characters in this story will have the same happy ending as Jane and Edward did.

The cast were terrific, with Penelope Wilton as reliable as ever as the kind and intelligent Mrs Beddowes, the district’s first female Alderman.  David Morrissey is also great as the dour and tortured Carne.  However, this is really Anna Maxwell Martin’s show, and she really is terrific in the role of Sarah.  This actress has such a fabulous range, and it was a pleasure to watch the character display such turns of emotion and deal with the problems which she met in her life and job.

This is an entirely different sort of period drama to shows such as Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs (both fantastic), which concentrate on the upper classes and their households.  This show centres on the working classes, the everyday villagers, and the youth of the village.

I’m reluctant to give away any more of the storyline, but I would certainly recommend this drama.  I’m off now to hunt out my copy of the book…

Year of release: 2011

Director: Diarmuid Lawrence

Writers: Winifred Holtby (book), Andrew Davies

Main cast: Anna Maxwell Martin, David Morrissey, John Henshall, Penelope Wilton, Charlie Clark, Douglass Henshall, Katherine McGolphin

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Anne Lister (1791 – 1840) was a Yorkshire woman, who inherited Shibden Hall (the family estate) in 1826, the income from which allowed her to live a life of modest luxury.  She was a noted diarist who wrote about her financial concerns, her life in industry (coal mining) and her lesbian relationships.  When writing about her relationships, she often used a code, which she created using Greek letters and algebra symbols.  She also loved to climb mountains.

This television film, adadpted from Anne Lister’s diaries (which were only published over a century after her death) concentrates on her love life, which is perhaps a shame, as there were other interesting aspects of her life which could have been featured – the death of all four of her brothers for example.

Anne Lister lives with her aunt and uncle at Shibden Hall, and is in love with Mariana Belcombe, but due to the conventions of the day their romance is a secret to all but Anne’s close friend and former lover Isabella ‘Tib’ Norcliffe.  When Mariana marries a wealthy older widower, Anne is devastated but seeks solace elsewhere.  Her relationship with Mariana continues in fits and starts with them meeting up whenever possible, but while Anne wants to ‘marry’ Mariana and live together, Mariana fears that the nature of their relationship will be discovered and refuses to leave her husband, although the marriage is not a happy one.

Eventually, when Anne realises that Mariana is never going to commit to a relationship, she starts a relationship with a neighbour Ann Walker, with whom she remained for the rest of her life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation.  It looks sumptuous, showing off Yorkshire’s natural beauty, and really creating a sense of what life must have been like in the early 1800s.  Anne’s sexual orientation is guessed at in the village where she lives and is generally disapproved of.

Maxine Peake plays the title role, and she is superb, conveying sometimes in just one look, the pain, heartbreak or love which Anne feels.  She is a fiercely intelligent woman, sometimes calculating, sometimes incredibly vulnerable, and Peake plays every aspect of the character beautifully.  Anna Madeley and Susan Lynch are also excellent in their respective roles as Mariana and Tib, and I should mention Christine Bottomley, as Ann Walker.  Her role might not have been huge, but she embodied it totally.

My attention was held throughout this wonderful piece of period drama.  However as mentioned earlier I did think it a slight shame that more aspects of Anne Lister’s fascinating life were left out, apparently to centre on her relationships.  Nonetheless, the excellent acting and scenery made it a joy to watch, and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Year of release: 2010

Director: James Kent

Writer: Jane English

Main cast: Maxine Peake, Anna Madeley, Susan Lynch, Gemma Jones, Alan David

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