Posted November 12, 2011 by Marcia Degia - Publisher in Features
 
 

Bronte Sisters


The Bronte sisters have written some of the greatest novels ever recorded; from the likes of Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë) to Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë).

The Bronte sisters have written some of the
greatest novels ever recorded; from the likes of Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë) to Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë). This week, Andrea
Arnold’s new and very interesting adaptation of Wuthering Heights is set to hit
cinemas. It follows closely on the heels of another Brontë sister adaptation, that of Jane Eyre,
directed by Cary Fukunaga and starring
Mia
Wasikowska and
Michael
Fassbender. Is this a Brontë sister’s revival,
Greg Evans asks?

Wuthering Heights

Of course, they never really went away, and
probably never will. The Brontë sister’s classic
tales of love, lust and adversity, written between 1830 and1860, will no doubt
always inspire filmmakers to recreate them for the big screen.

Perhaps the most famous is Wuthering Heights,
Emily Brontë’s only novel, which
is
set in rural Northern England. This tragic tale is about the love/hate
relationship between Cathy and her adopted brother Heathcliff. A dark and
brooding tale of scorned souls and petty revenge, it’s a ripe story for
cinematic adaptation. No fewer than 14 films have been made about this classic
tale, plus eight different television series to boot. The wide range of actors
and actresses who have taken upon the roles of Cathy and Heathcliff is quite
astounding. Laurence Olivier, Timothy Dalton, Ken Hutchinson, Ralph Fiennes, Ian McShane, Juliette Binoche and Tom
Hardy
have all respectfully
played these tormented characters. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these
portrayals fail in many different areas.

It’s easy to treat Wuthering Heights as a
period drama piece by numbers, as many have. William Wyler’s 1939 version is
still widely regarded as the strongest adaptation, due to strong performances
by Laurence Olivier and Merle
Oberon
against the backdrop of the savage
moors.


Experimentation

Up until now adaptations of Wuthering Heights
have seen little experimentation. Japanese and Egyptian re-workings were
greeted with muted receptions. Although, surrealist Luis Bunuel’s adaptation, Abismos de Pasion, is seen
as a cult classic. Whereas, Peter
Kosminsky
1992 film has an
element of horror to it, and Ralph Fiennes’wicked and cruel portrayal of
Heathcliffe reportedly landed him his much applauded performance as Amon Goth
in Schindler’s List. Ironically Kate
Bush’s
song of the same name
is probably more famous than any of the above mentioned films.

Wuthering Heights will always remain a tale
that will captivate directors and viewers due to its timeless and poignant
quality and volatile themes of love, passion, class and revenge. Andrea
Arnold’s take looks to be the most exciting in recent memory.

Arnold, known mostly for her 2009 film Fish
Tank, has not only taken the gritty and stylish approach also seen in her
earlier work, but she has stripped the film to its raw element. Reminiscent of
a Terrence Malik film, Arnold picks up on tiny details of nature and the rough
unforgiving landscape that famously provides a back drop to Cathy and
Heathcliff’s tormented love-story. It remains to be seen if her adaptation will
prove to be too arty for the mainstream, or too dated of a narrative for film
buffs. However, there is no doubt it will be a groundbreaking and heartfelt
movie; after all, Arnold is one of the brightest lights in British directing
right now. Let’s hope Wuthering Heights will gain her further recognition and
also earn the Brontë sisters a whole new
fan base.

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre is arguably as famous as Emily’s Wuthering
Heights. Its filmography fares slightly better than Wuthering Heights, too. So
far 15 films have been adapted from the novel and ten television serials exist.
Jane Eyre is not necessarily a tale of unrequited love, more of unfortunate
love.

The story starts with a young Jane Eyre living
life as an orphan. As she slowly progresses through private schooling and
eventually on to teaching, Eyre is offered a job at Thornfield Hall. There she
encounters the mysterious master of the house; Edward Rochester. As Rochester
and Eyre’s relationship grows a series of disastrous events take place. One of
which famously involves a wife hidden in the attic.

Once again the casts that have lined up for
the roles of Mr Rochester and Eyre are astonishing. Orson Welles, Susannah York, Timothy Dalton, William Hurt, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Samantha Morton, Ciaran Hinds and, of course, the previously
mentioned Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska.

The best version is often cited as the 1996
adaptation starring Hurt as Rochester and Gainsbourg as Eyre respectively.
Although it does have its moments, Hurt comes across as more of an eccentric
Rochester.

The newest version directed by Cary Fukunaga, is the cruellest and
most uncompromising vision of Charlotte Bronte’s novel yet, which is precisely
accurate and expertly acted. Fassbender and Wasikowska are joined by Jaime Bell, Judi Dench and the always consistent Sally Hawkins, and overall the film has gone a long
way to restoring interest in the Brontë sister’s stories to a
modern audience.

The future of the Brontë Novels

The Bronte’s stories will always be rich food
for directors due to the respect their novels have earned over time. The
question is: do these dramas only appeal to a certain demographic, those who
are already fans of novels? Perhaps a lack of real experimentation has held
them back from being truly great films. Whatever plaudits or criticism comes of
Andrea Arnold’s direction of Wuthering Heights, she should be praised for
daring to experiment with a classic. If more were willing to play with these timeless
pieces of text then maybe we’d already have seen a whole host of takes on
Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre that got it right. With advancements in modern
cinema improving all the time and a wave of brave new directors just starting
to break, we can only hope that we’ll see a movie that will do the sisters true
credit. Let’s just hope we never get Wuthering Heights the sequel in 3D…


Marcia Degia - Publisher

 
Marcia Degia has worked in the media industry for more than 10 years. She was previously Acting Managing Editor of Homes and Gardens magazine, Publishing Editor at Macmillan Publishers and Editor of Pride Magazine. Marcia, who has a Masters degree in Screenwriting, has also been involved in many broadcast projects. Among other things, she was the devisor of the documentary series Secret Suburbia for Living TV.