The unforgettable image of a girl's ghost clawing at the window of a lonely farmhouse chills the spine once more in Masterpiece Theatre's new adaptation of Emily Brontë's haunting classic, Wuthering Heights, airing Sunday, October 18, 1998 at 9pm on PBS (check local listings).
Orla Brady and Robert Cavanah (Cracker) star as the tormented sweethearts, Cathy and Heathcliff, in a rare retelling of the complete story of their doomed love.
Most adaptations of Wuthering Heights end with Cathy's death halfway through the novel, leaving out the story of the second generation, an indispensable part of Emily Brontë's carefully-structured theme of doubles: two generations, two houses, two ways of life, two infatuated couples.
Published in 1847, Wuthering Heights was condemned by one critic as "abominably pagan" for the dark passion throbbing in the heart of its irredeemable hero-villain, Heathcliff. Yet Emily Brontë was a reclusive, unmarried daughter of an English country vicar.
A year after Wuthering Heights appeared she was dead from consumption at age thirty, never having written another book. Her sisters Anne and Charlotte, themselves extraordinary novelists, also died young.
Wuthering Heights chronicles the passionate spiritual bond between Heathcliff, an abandoned Gypsy boy adopted by the Earnshaw family of Wuthering Heights, and the family's daughter, Cathy.
When Mr. Earnshaw (Ken Kitson) dies, his son Hindley (Ian Shaw) takes over the farm and consigns his hated, adopted brother to servitude. But Heathcliff and Cathy steal moments of freedom on the moors.
Their life together is shattered when Cathy decides to marry her refined neighbor, Edgar Linton (Crispin Bonham-Carter) of Thrushcross Grange. Disconsolate and anguished, Heathcliff disappears for four years and then returns, mysteriously rich, set on wreaking revenge on both the Earnshaws and Lintons.
Though he has never stopped loving Cathy, Heathcliff drives her to madness and death - as he eventually does to his own wretchedly unhappy wife, Isabella (Flora Montgomery); and to the dissolute Hindley, who has sunk into alcoholism after giving up Wuthering Heights to Heathcliff.
Meanwhile, Cathy has left behind a daughter, Catherine (Sarah Smart), whom, years later, Heathcliff matches with his own son, Linton (William Mannering), so that he may obtain control of Thrushcross Grange.
But in this second generation, Heathcliff's spiritual heir turns out to be not Linton, but Hindley's son, Hareton (Matthew MacFadyen), whose relationship with Catherine grows to be something innocently like that of Heathcliff and Cathy, so many years before.
Wuthering Heights is a co-production of LWT and WGBH Boston. It is directed by David Skynner, produced by Louise Berridge, and adapted by Neil McKay. The executive producers are Rebecca Eaton (WGBH Boston) and Jo Wright (LWT).
Masterpiece Theatre is presented on PBS by WGBH Boston, where Rebecca Eaton is series executive producer. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Russell Baker is series host. Masterpiece Theatre is closed captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers by The Caption Center at WGBH.
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