Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Brilliant Brontës: Brontës on Film

As you can imagine, there will never be a shortage of Brontë novel adaptations for the big and small screen. Plus, for three women who lived relatively quiet lives in the country, there have been multiple accounts of said lives filmed. The Brontë family continues to fascinate readers and theatergoers, much like Jane Austen, and while sometimes I wonder if the world needs another version of these classic works, it's fun to critique them. Maybe someone could make some movies about the life of Virginia Woolf, too? Then my favorite English authors would all be represented...but that's a topic for another blog post.

I've watched several of these adaptations already (and, not listed, but if you are an Anne Brontë fan I recommend getting The Tenant of Wildfell Hall via Interlibrary Loan), but I thought I'd watch something new for the purposes of this post, rather than trying to comb my faulty memory for more details about past viewings. (But do watch the Isabelles Adjani and Huppert as Les Sœurs Brontë, and my friend and I keep wrangling over the merits of the 2008 version of Wuthering Heights with Tom Hardy - she argues "more naturalistic than other productions", I argue "I can't understand Tom Hardy".)

I chose the 1939 Wuthering Heights, with the stunning cast of Laurence Olivier, David Niven, and Merle Oberon. This version slightly truncated the story, leaving out Hareton Earnshaw and Catherine Linton altogether. I found Olivier to be slightly too urbane to be convincing as Heathcliff the stableboy, but in a large part that's due to Received Pronunciation, which is still how a lot of English actors speak, whatever their regional accents. Also, despite his jet-black hair (dyed?), Olivier seems less exotic than his co-star Oberon (whom he apparently detested). The film score was a bit heavy-handed - it pervaded every scene - and, at least in the beginning, seemed too sprightly for the content, though its composer, Alfred Newman, was nominated for an Academy Award. As the movie went on, the actors' performances grew on me.  I will never be a whole-hearted fan of Wuthering Heights, but Olivier and Oberon really brought the intensity and complexity to their roles, and David Niven was pitch-perfect in the thankless role of Edgar Linton.

I also watched the 1997 Jane Eyre and I'm going to gush a little, because I loved Samantha Morton as Jane. I'm not sure if I've seen another adaptation where Jane does voiceovers, but they seemed perfect here. I was less enamored with Ciarán Hinds as Mr. Rochester (although I chose this version because I loved him in Persuasion) - he felt slightly too ineffectual in that role, not severe or magnetic enough. Gemma Jones played Mrs. Fairfax, and she really is a jewel of English cinema - I've seen her play so many roles adeptly, and this was no exception. Sometimes I felt like Samantha and Gemma were the emotional heart of the film, and Ciarán was just floundering to find his center and barking his lines in an attempt to sound passionate.

I chose these two adaptations to compare how the handling of the Brontës' work had changed over the years, but the main difference I noticed in these productions was the handling of the score - it was much less noticeable in Jane Eyre, but that might also have been the difference between a theatrical release and and a televised production.

What is your favorite adaptation of the Brontës' work? Let us know in the comments!


The Brontës of Haworth
1973 mini-series; with Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Vickery Turner, Alfred Burke

Les soeurs Brontë  = The Brontë sisters
1979 film; with Isabelle Adjani, Marie-France Pisier, Isabelle Huppert, Pascal Greggory

Adaptations of the novels

Jane Eyre

1944 film; with Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, Margaret O'Brien, Agnes Moorehead

1997 TV drama; with Samantha Morton, Gemma Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Rupert Penry-Jones, Deborah Findlay

2006 mini-series; with Toby Stephens, Ruth Wilson, Francesca Annis 

2011 film; with Jamie Bell, Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench

Wuthering Heights 

1939 film; with Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, David Niven, Flora Robson, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Miles Mander, Hugh Williams, Donald Crisp, Leo G. Carroll

1992 film; with Juliette Binoche, Ralph Fiennes, Janet McTeer, Sophie Ward, Simon Shepherd, Jeremy Northam, Jason Riddington, Simon Ward, Dick Sullivan

2008 TV drama; with Tom Hardy, Charlotte Riley, Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Lancashire, Burn Gorman, Rosalind Halstead


The Enthusiast's Guide to Jane Eyre Adaptations

The Reader's Guide to Wuthering Heights: Movie and TV Adaptations

*This post is part of our year-long Brilliant Brontës challenge! To see more posts, search for the labels "Brontë, challenge" in the blog sidebar. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My favorite Wuthering Heights adaptation was the 1992 Ralph Fiennes version. He was a very tortured Heathcliff and transferred a lot of that anguish into The English Patient, the most romantic movie ever.