Wuthering Heights

Masterpiece Classic

by Laura McDonald

What qualities make a successful adaptation of a classic novel for you? Are you a purist who dislikes any deviation from the sacred text? Or will you tolerate variations on the plot if the innate nature of the novel is not harmed?

Stories of episodic nature with easily classifiable characters seem to do well as screenplays--the work of Charles Dickens comes to mind. Wuthering Heights on the other hand is a story without category, defying conventional narrative structure, acted out by characters of ambiguous motivations. A variation of some sort seems almost necessary to provide the audience with a clear telling of this complex novel. I was therefore curious to see how the new Masterpiece Theater adaptation would play out.


He is brutal, conniving, and haunted; he plays both degraded stable boy and wealthy gentleman with ease.

Part I begins at a seemingly random scene: young Linton Heathcliff's arrival at Wuthering Heights. After a few minutes, however, it starts to make sense. Like many Wuthering Heights adaptations, the double narration of the book has been stripped.

It is therefore unnecessary to introduce Mr Lockwood or Nelly Dean before we get to Linton's return and the avalanche of misfortunes that the second generation experiences. This adaptation gives us a small taste of what is going on in present day--what Heathcliff and Edgar Linton have become and the legacy they are pushing onto their children--before it takes us back to the story of the first generation.

Cathy-and-Heathcliff-in-doo.jpgHeathcliff and Catherine, played by Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley, are truly enjoyable to watch and work well together on screen. Tom Hardy especially proves himself worthy of playing that devil-man creation. He is brutal, conniving, and haunted; he plays both degraded stable boy and wealthy gentleman with ease.     

Another great performance is Burn Gorman as Hindley. Masterpiece Theatre regulars will remember him as Guppy in Bleak House.

Hindley's character is very true to the book as the ruthless and then utterly destroyed older brother.

Heathcliff and Hindley make clearer something that I found lacking in the other characters of this adaptation. While superbly acted, they seemed like diluted versions of their fiery book counterparts. To truly enjoy Emily Brontë's masterpiece, one has to take a queer pleasure in reading about people destroying themselves and those around them. I believe there isn't one character in the book that escapes from doing something despicable. Saintly Nelly Dean even has her moments. Not here. Heathcliff.jpg 

Catherine is sympathetic and not innately self-destructive. It seems like her fate is sealed by obsessive devotion rather than vengeful conceit. Young Linton Heathcliff shows none of his detestable selfishness of the novel. Young Cathy makes one rude remark to Hareton then then immediately repents. And Joseph, the character I had grown to love in the book as a the black-humor comic relief, says a mere two rude and unintelligible lines.

I am sure there are viewers of this version for whom Heathcliff and Hindley provide quite enough conflict and anguish for one sitting. Perhaps some will enjoy the slight reprieve from Emily Brontë's brutish rendering of chaos on the moors. Admittedly, toning down the violence and stepping up the sex does have an appeal. The romance is heightened, making the doomed love of Catherine and Heathcliff more understandable to the modern audience, especially for those not familiar with the book.

Cathy-and-Heathcliff-in-rai.jpgSo if you aren't a purist when it comes to adaptations and can overlook that some relationships are changed from the original, that some characters are actually innately good, and--maybe the strangest of all--that Nelly Dean never ages despite the passage of 30 years, then you'll surely enjoy this unique and charming retelling of Wuthering Heights.


HELP! I was watching Wuthering Heights on PBS last night 1/19 at 0200 and it just went black midway and I can't find it anywhere. The only one on is the 1939 version which I don't want.
Please help. I called the customer service and got no where.

Hi Betty,

You can try to check with your local station's schedule to find out if they are repeating, but if you can't find it, you can watch it online until February 1 at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/wutheringheights/watch.html

Hope that this helps!


I just caught this classic as I was getting ready for bed last night. It's really a great watch- as I'm usually an avid reader and just was flipping around. Loved this show- I know the book is out- but is it available on DVD? I really loved watching this movie/ soap thing. Can't wait to find out what Heathcliff does? It really had me going! Great programming you guys! Loved it-marti

I was watching and I agree. It's fun to watch for what it is. Cathy isn't nearly miserable enough. I'm enjoying it completely though!

I loved this version too. It inspired me to go watch the 1939 black/white at utube.It didnt compare but was fun nun the less.I'm also reading the book on line. so fun. If memory serves me-didn't Emily Bronte have a brother named Brandon whos heart was broken by a woman who married an older man of means? He came back to live at their family home on the moors and was sullen, broody and eventually died of opium addiction. could Heathcliff's manic personality be inspired by him?

Bren--Emily Bronte did have a brother named Branwell who was employed as tutor in a family. He supposedly had an affair with the mother and was subsequently fired. He then went home, became a raging alcoholic, and died shortly thereafter. Many have theorized that he is the basis for much of the violence in Wuthering Heights, as I'm sure his sisters had to suffer much at his indispositions.

when does part 2 come on pbs in massachusetts?

This was great fun--a stylish production that visualized the physical aspects of the novel well I thought. Tom Hardy's Heathcliff was taller and heavier than all the other characters on screen--he was a perfect dark boulder of a man galumphing around everywhere, blowing away the presence of wispy Edgar and Isabella Linton. I liked that the bleakness and brutality were there. I thought it was odd that in this production Heathcliff was restrained with Isabella. In the book he destroys her in an almost physical way, while here he more or less seems to ignore her and robs her of her family indirectly.

Loved this adaptation! Heathcliff was gorgeous! Am I not the only girl who fell in love with him? Those lips! Wonderful story, this was by far the best masterpiece I have ever watched. Me want more Tom Brady! I cried so much. Very sad story.

Such a girl,

Hi, I missed the second half of Wuthering Heights and when I try to watch it online at pbs, I can only hear the movie, but I can't watch it! Is anyone else having this problem?

I just started watching this show and I fell in love with it. My only problem is, I missed the first few shows. Is this going to be released on DVD anytime soon?

The actor who played Heathcliff, Tom Brady, is gorgeous and what a great actor. Totally believable! I want more!

Tom Brady as Heathcliff.... whew!!!.. I agree let's see him again.. total rapture..lol

i found it on youtube put in wuthering heights 2009 it will be their i loved the show it is above far the best i wish their was a book with this movie

Call me a purist if you like, or call me cynical, but I was MORE than disappointed with this version of Wuthering Heights. ESPECIALLY the ending. I was so pleased when I first began to watch this beautifully produced and costumed piece--finally, I said to myself, someone is going to give us the WHOLE story of Heathcliff and the two generations he tried to destroy. But as the script dragged on and on and on (and, it seemed Charlotte Riley's lips seemed to grow even larger), I realized they were going to do what every other version did. Create a u-turn from the book. Where was the wonderful scene in the kitchen after Cathy returns from the Linton's when, Heathcliff hiding, she tells Nelly of her shame of Heathcliff and then, when he suddenly leaves, she admits...she IS Heathcliff? They butchered it. That's where it was. The worst crime, I feel was watching them change the characters from those corseted in society's grip, to those in a trashy romance novel of the 2009's, complete with the "strong" woman figure.




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