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Wuthering Heights (1962)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Wuthering Heights (1962)
BBC, tx. 11/5/1962
95 minutes, black & white
ProducerRudolph Cartier
ScriptNigel Kneale
From the Novel byEmily Brontë
PhotographyA. Arthur Englander

Cast: Claire Bloom (Cathy); Keith Michell (Heathcliff); Ronald Howard (Lockwood); Jean Anderson (Ellen); Patrick Troughton (Hindley); David McCallum (Edgar)

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The tragic love of Heathcliff and Catherine.

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Nigel Kneale was first tasked with dramatising Emily Brontë's gothic romance Wuthering Heights for television as a BBC staff writer in 1953. The swiftly completed adaptation proved a success when staged live by producer Rudolph Cartier (BBC, tx. 6/12/1953). In 1962 the play was resurrected for a new production, again by Cartier.

Kneale wrote in 1953 that his task was to "catch and preserve in clear television terms something of the spirit of that grim, alarming, fascinating and finally overpowering masterpiece." In doing so, he strips the novel down to the very basics of its story, focussing on the stormy love between Catherine and Heathcliff. Kneale telescopes the early events of the novel and cuts the whole of the second half following Catherine's death, removing entirely the major characters Hareton Earnshaw, Linton Heathcliffe and Catherine's own daughter Cathy.

Rudolph Cartier's production moves at a rapid pace, concentrating very much on the human interaction at the expense of his trademark spectacle. The play is entirely studio-bound, taking advantage of its limited Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange settings. On the one occasion that we see the moorland which so characterises the novel, it is realised as a small studio set. The set alone does not convince, but in conjunction with sound and wind effects, and the dialogue's constant Romantic allusions to the uncontrolled physicality of the landscape ("a real, terrible, physical heaven", Catherine calls it), a wild and remote location is effectively evoked. Cartier also elicits strong performances from his leads, with Claire Bloom's Catherine seeming often on the very edge of sanity and Keith Mitchell's Heathcliff turning convincingly from the slighted victim of Hindley to the vengeful bully of all those around him.

Dennis Potter, then television critic on the Daily Herald, wrote that the play "was like a thunderstorm on the flat, dreary plains of the week's television... The howl of the wind against the windows, the muted pain of Claire Bloom as the wretched Cathy, and the hunted misery of Keith Mitchell as Heathcliff, made this a more than adequate offering of a great work."

The liberties Kneale takes in reducing Wuthering Heights for the small screen mean that it will never please Brontë purists, but it does offer more casual viewers the effective concentration of its 'spirit' that Kneale intended. While this production may not be the definitive adaptation of Brontë's novel, it remains a surprisingly satisfying one.

Oliver Wake

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Video Clips
1. Taking back (1:20)
2. 'This is the Heaven I'd Choose' (2:19)
3. 'I broke my heart with weeping' (4:34)
4. Daring the ghosts (4:35)
Cartier, Rudolph (1904-94)
Englander, A. Arthur (1916-2004)
Kneale, Nigel (1922-2006)
Troughton, Patrick (1920-1987)
TV Literary Adaptation