2. Wuthering Heights (2011)
The most recent release on this list is Andrea Arnold’s 2011 adaptation starring James Howson and Kaya Scodelario. This version takes the story of Cathy and Heathcliff, and moves it into a much more grounded place. There are no gothic or ghostly elements in this film, nor any outlandish moments at all for that matter, making Wuthering Heights (2011) a raw presentation of love in a rural Yorkshire landscape as opposed to a typical British heritage movie.
The cinematography in this film is something to be studied and appreciated, much as was the case for the 1939 version. Shot in the more square 1.31:1 ratio, the attention to minute aspects of performance is ramped up, and surprisingly the landscape becomes somehow more all-consuming and more breath-taking as a result. The version of Yorkshire presented here is not glamourised however, this is a beautiful but tough space. The landscape is raw and rural, and seemingly inescapable. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan won two awards for this film, and his vast talents make for a tremendous movie to look at, a film arguably worth your time for the cinematography alone.
Moreover, much praise should to be given to the actors that play the younger versions of Cathy and Heathcliff. Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer are outstanding. Their connection is believable, their bond feels genuine, and this adaptation builds such an intense love between the two that it blurs the lines of sibling familiarity and true romantic love. In this version, the story is told in two halves, and this relationship forged between Glave and Beer per the guidance of Arnold makes for a truly captivating first section.
It also means that there’s a change of actors for the second half, making the return of Heathcliff all the more impactful.
This physical change represents lost time for the characters and for us. We feel every moment of their prolonged distance and are encouraged to see how the locations have changed, just as the characters have. Fans of the novel will no doubt appreciate this aspect of Arnold’s work immensely, and it serves a great purpose within the narrative of the film as a standalone piece.
It does, however, also mean that the chemistry and relationship that we see in the younger characters, played by Glace and Beer, is gone. We see older Heathcliff (Howson) and older Cathy (Scodelario), but they are not the same people. The reveal of Scodelario as Beer’s older counterpart is particularly jarring, and the chemistry Scodelario forges with Howson is lacking in all the chemistry and intensity of their younger counterparts.
As a result, the second half is miles away from the first.
So far as cinematography, first-half performances and the deeply personal take on the story go, Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights deserves immense praise and its position at number 2 on this list, but the sad reality is that Arnold’s 2011 version made it three films from four in which the connection between Cathy and Heathcliff in their adult lives is completely unbelievable, which is a real shame considering how iconic their relationship is within literature.
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1. Wuthering Heights (1970)
Finally, a version of Wuthering Heights where the actors actually sound Northern…
This is not the only reason for this 1970 version to be in the top spot on our list, but it is very important that the actors are believable as Yorkshire folk in what is a story so strongly defined by its Yorkshireness.
Most importantly as regards 1970’s Wuthering Heights taking the top spot, there is genuine passion between the leads. This time Heathcliff is played by James Bond himself, Timothy Dalton. Not only does the connection between the characters feel genuine, but there is an equality between the sexes that seems lacking in the other versions – Cathy, played here by Anna Clalder-Marshall, does not feel small next to Heathcliff like in the other movie versions of the story.
Their love for each other is clear from the beginning, the only issue with this being that the film heavily implies that Heathcliff is actually Mr Earnshaw’s illegitimate child and therefore Cathy and Heathcliff are half brother and sister. But we try not to think about that too much…
Cathy’s reasons for marrying Edgar are because of her love for Heathcliff, to get him away from Hindley. This version best portrays that, ensuring the narrative makes more sense, getting us on side with the pair uniting, the couple finding their happy ever after.
Appropriately, this 1970 release also has the most satisfying ending, with the gothic sensibilities of the 1939 version incorporated to have an unconventional romantic conclusion; one that feels all the more impactful because of how believable the central relationship is.
Simply, no other Wuthering Heights built such a believable relationship as in this version, and while other iterations featured stronger individual elements, it is this Robert Fuest directed adaptation that is the most complete and enjoyable of the bunch.
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But what do you think? Would you have ordered them differently? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us!