Friday, June 14, 2013

By the Brontë Book

(Previously on By the Book: Austen, Dickens, Hardy)

I've never met a Brontë book I didn't like, and there are a lot of adaptations to pick from too.  Some are excellent, some are okay and there are some really crummy ones as well.  Diversity!  Like Pride and Prejudice, there seems to be new versions of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre every few years, and I will readily watch them all.  But don't worry, I haven't forgotten about Anne.

Anne Brontë:
The Tennant of Wildfell Hall: This is the only book of Anne's that I've read and the plot is, well, certainly not a cheery one.  But like with her sisters' novels, things turn out okay after all the terrible things happen.  Anyway, the miniseries from 1996 is appropriately dark and, funnily enough, features more than one actor from OTHER recent Brontë adaptations. 

Cast cross overs: Toby Stephens, Tara Fitzgerald, Pam Ferris, James Purefoy 
HP bonus: Pam Ferris

Emily Brontë: 
Wuthering Heights: Oh, how I love this book.  It's so bleak and full of overwrought emotions and terrible people.  But it also has some decent characters as well and a satisfying ending--elements that are sometimes cut completely out of some adaptations.  And really, WHAT is the point of doing only the first half of the book and leaving off all the nice things?  Anyway.  There are OODLES of movies to choose from and most of them are lame.  HAH.  Just kidding, sort of. 

The earliest version is from 1939 with Laurence Olivier.  Confession: I made it ten minutes into this one and then turned my nose up at it.  I should probably go back and finish it sometime.  

There's another black and white version from 1967 with Ian McShane.  It is awful.  Just awful.  Bad acting, bad wigs, no music, constant wind and Ian McShane throws away the best lines too.  While it does do the whole book, the same actress plays both Catherines and that never works for me.  Skip it!

Timothy Dalton pops up in a version from 1970 and it is also not very good.  Any version that stops at the end of the first generation gets a thumbs down from me.

The 1992 theatrical adaptation with Ralph Fiennes is one of the better ones.  I think Ralph Fiennes is the best part, and again, I don't like that Juliette Binoche plays both Catherines.  Still, it's a good shorter version that spans the whole novel.

The 1998 Masterpiece is my favorite by far!  It is basically perfect.  Okay, I may be biased since it's the first one I saw (and was my first exposure to the story), but I just love it and have watched it SO many times.  The cast is spot on, the moors are desolate and it's all perfectly depressing dreary.  I wish it were a little longer, just so it could include a bit more, but as it is, it's the best.  (Plus it has my favorite movie kiss of all!)

If you can believe it, MTV made a modernized version in 2003.  I actually remember it being not as bad as I expected, but even so...

Masterpiece made yet another version in 2009, and it is fine--I mean, it tells the whole story and it's pretty and what have you.  My main issue is that I don't care for the cast--Catherine is too delicately pretty, younger Catherine is a whiner and, while I like Tom Hardy in some things, I don't buy him as Heathcliff. 

The latest version, from 2011, is another theatrical one, and is probably the worst of all.  Aside from some serious content issues, they chopped the story off halfway and made some really perplexing artistic decisions.  For instance, why age-up the Heathcliff and Cathy actors but not Hindley?  This one came off as hollow and passionless, despite the added, ahem, passion.

1939 cast cross over: Laurence Olivier
1970 cast cross over: Timothy Dalton
1992 cast cross over: Jeremy Northam, Jonathan Firth
HP Bonus: Ralph Fiennes

1998 cast cross over: Matthew MacFadyen, Crispin Bonham Carter
2009 cast cross over: Tom Hardy, Burn Gorman


Charlotte Brontë:
Jane Eyre: Who doesn't love Jane Eyre?  Again, lots of awful things happen but it all turns out well in the end.  Those Brontës certainly loved their drama (I bet they would have loved Thomas Hardy).  Like with Wuthering Heights, there are a number of Jane Eyre options and several are even good!

I grew up watching the 1983 version with Timothy Dalton, and honestly, aside from the soap opera effect, it holds up surprisingly well.  Pretty much any fondness I have for Timothy Dalton stems from this.  

The 1996 theatrical version is pretty good, though it's kind of forgettable for me.  I say this because I've seen it several times but I still can't remember much about it.  I don't think William Hurt was born to play Mr. Rochester, but he gets by.  Also, Elle Macpherson?  Zuh?

A&E made a version in 1997.  Um, I made it fifteen minutes in.  Sorry, Ciaran Hinds.

2006 brought a new Masterpiece version, and it is my favorite.  Toby Stephens is probably a bit too young for the part, but he's very likable, in a grumpy Mr. Rochester kind of way.  Also I think Ruth Wilson is fantastic and the best Jane by far.  I think it's easy for Jane to come off as bland, but in this she's got some (well-mannered) fire in her.

And finally, there was another theatrical release in 2011.  This is another one that did not leave much of an impression on me.  The age difference here was a *bit* too much for me, and while I liked her in Alice in Wonderland, I didn't care for Mia Wasikowska as Jane.  But hey, I never turn down a new Jane Eyre

1983 cast cross over: Timothy Dalton
1996 cast cross overs: Amanda Root, Samuel West, Fiona Shaw (Persuasion reunion!)
HP Bonus: Fiona Shaw
1997 cast cross overs: Gemma Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Samantha Morton
HP Bonus: Ciaran Hinds, Gemma Jones
2006 cast cross overs: Toby Stephens, Tara Fitzgerald, Pam Ferris, Francesca Annis
HP Bonus: Pam Ferris
2011 cast cross over: Sally Hawkins

The moral(s) of this post: 1998 Wuthering Heights.  2006 Jane Eyre.  Avoid Ian McShane at all costs.


  1. I completely agree about the Jane Eyre adaptations. I HATE the A&E version. I thought Samantha Morton was fine, but Cirian Hinds was so wretched. Which is too bad because I like him in many things. I love the old Wuthering Heights, but it's because I watched it back when I was 15 and had read the book and was perplexed about why people thought it was romantic. For some reason, that book was my gareway back into it so that a couple of years later I could reread it and fall in love.

  2. Toby Stephens (as drew would say) FTW!!!! Also it is my favorite because I feel Janes desire for family, which is what I feel was one of the books major themes, more keenly in this one!!!! I love it!!!!!