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Best Adaptations of Wuthering Heights

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

Emily Bronte's unsettling classic ''Wuthering Heights'' has been fertile ground for filmmakers, inspiring adaptations starring the likes of Sir Laurence Olivier, Juliette Binoche, and Ralph Fiennes.

A Dark Classic

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte's only published novel, has enchanted audiences with its darkness and passionate characters since it was first published in 1847. Not surprisingly, the novel, with its spooky, expressive scenery, memorable scenes, and original characters, has been a popular source for film and television adaptations.

There have been dozens of adaptations over the past century, though only a few have held up and found wide audiences. The 1939 version starring Sir Laurence Olivier and directed by William Wyler is still considered by many to be the best. However, more recent adaptations from 1992 and 2011 have also found fans and put fresh spins on the classic novel.

Wuthering Heights (1939)

This all-star production Classic Hollywood production of Wuthering Heights stars Sir Laurence Olivier, widely considered to be the greatest actor of his generation, in the part of the untameable Heathcliff. He is joined by Merle Oberon as Catherine and David Niven as Edgar Linton. The film was directed by William Wyler, who also directed classics such as Ben-Hur.

Like many adaptations, Wyler's version severely cuts down the novel, depicting only about 16 of Bronte's 34 chapters. The film eliminates the second generation of characters, Catherine's daughter and Heathcliff's son. In the film, Catherine and Heathcliff have no children and the action more or less ends after Catherine's death. In addition, Isabella does not leave Heathcliff and is still his wife when Lockwood comes to visit Wuthering Heights and hears the story of Heathcliff and Catherine.

Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights (1992)

This 1992 version was part of a 90s trend of putting the author's name into the titles of adaptations of classic literature (see also: Bram Stoker's Dracula and William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet). But perhaps it was appropriate as this is one of the few adaptations to stay true to Bronte by including the second generation of Earnshaws and Lintons.

The film, which was directed by Peter Kosminsky, stars Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche. Binoche plays the parts of both Catherine and her daughter Cathy. This was an interesting choice since the novel specifically mentions that Cathy resembles her father Edgar more than her mother. However, it works thematically in highlighting the way Cathy keeps her mother's spirit alive after her death.

Wuthering Heights (2011)

The most recent major adaptation of the book has the distinction of being the first important adaptation of the novel to be directed by a woman, Andrea Arnold. Unlike the earlier adaptations which used big stars, this version stars unknowns Kaya Scodelario and James Howson.

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