“Wide Sargasso Sea” (2006)

Running Time:  84 minutes 

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Victoria Hamilton, and Nina Sosnaya

In this prequel to Jane Eyre (based on the novel by Jean Rhys), youthful Englishman and second son, Edward Rochester (Rafe Spall), travels to the West Indies (Jamaica to be precise) for a possible arranged marriage with Creole plantation owner, Antoinette Cosway (Rebecca Hall), the step-niece of his friend Richard Mason.  (You may recall that in Bronte’s tale, she is called Bertha Mason.)  Society will deem it a good match- he has the good English family name and she has the land/cash. 

Edward feels a strong attraction to Antoinette, but is anxious about being tied to a woman he knows very little about.  He’s also uncomfortable in the heat and culture of Jamaica.  But Antoinette makes friends with Edward, not totally against the match.  She is an orphan who feels a deep connection to her homeland, while England “seems like a dream.”  Edward thinks that’s ridiculous- England is the real world for him

Antoinette’s attitude makes her Aunt Cora (Victoria Hamilton) nervous; she comments that a girl w/ her qualities doesn’t have to settle for the first man she meets.  Antoinette (a very intriguing character) has a mix of innocence and openness about her.  Though she looks delicate, she’s not afraid to express herself, unlike the repressed Edward.  Perhaps he is a little bit afraid of her?  Also, there are rumors about her “mad mother.”   

There are many layers to this story, but at the heart of the matter are two people who fail to understand each other.  The man seeks to control the woman, who has a heritage and identity of her own- not to mention feelings.  He is afraid of the power she holds over him w/ her beauty, sensuality, and mysterious past.   

In one crucial scene, Edward even insists that his new bride change her name, as “it doesn’t sound English.”  She’s shocked by his words.  “My name is Antoinette!” she cries out.  (Sorry ladies, this is not the Rochester you loved in Jane Eyre.)

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Movie Review: Masterpiece Theater’s “Wuthering Heights”

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This young lady (Emily Bronte) wrote one of the most scandalous books of her time!  (Some consider it a pretty outrageous book in our time, too.)  She was the daughter of a clergyman, rarely left home, never married, and died at age 30.

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Here is a portrait of Emily painted by her older brother, Bramwell.  Many literary experts think that Bramwell was the inspiration for the charater of Heathcliff.  Bramwell was much more a person of the world than his sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Anne); he was said to have a hot temper, drink heavily, and gamble.

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Emily’s Heathcliff, unlike Charlotte’s Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre), is not merely a brooding romantic hero who can be turned around by a good woman.  Healthcliff is an anti-hero- more like a force of nature than a man.  When Cathy lies ill and pregnant in this latest ITV adaptation, she begs Nelly (the ever-loyal housekeeper) to throw open the windows.  She wants to feel the wind upon her- feel close to Heathcliff.

This adaptation is not very close to the book, but it has several strong points.  The music suits the mood of the story very well.  The use of unknown actors works well, as we have no preconceived notions of what we’ll see.  As characters changed over time, and the actors’ portrayals became more believable.

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Heathcliff, in deed, stands unredeemed.  -Charlotte Bronte

Tom Hardy, though not conventionally handsome, makes an excellent Heathcliff.  This Healthcliff is “very changeable” (like Mr. Rochester), but filled to the brim w/ rage.  Hardy is somehow able to make the audience feel some empathy with him at crucial times in the story.  I especially enjoyed these scenes: Heathcliff coming to tea after Cathy and Edgar Linton’s marriage, confronting her on the moors after she’s been w/ Edgar, and holding/comforting the nearly-dead Cathy at the crag.

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Tom Hardy does a lot of acting with his eyes and facial expressions, as Healthcliff is a mysterious man.  But he’s also able to say the dialogue with conviction.  The low/deep voice he uses makes you lean forward and pay attention.  He created good chemistry with Cathy (Charlotte Riley), but I felt he was a much stronger actor.  He’s older and has had much more experience.  (While I watched him, I thought of Gene Hackman, another actor who is very masculine, intense, and able to stay in the moment.)

Burn Gorman, an actor you may’ve seen in Bleak House, did a terrific job as the depressed, unstable, and alcoholic Hindley.  The young lady who played little Catherine (Cathy’s daughter) did very well also; she was full of her mother’s curiosity and energy.  Edgar was handsome, likeable, but weak (as in the book).

There were many things different from Bronte’s book, most notably Healthcliff shooting himself.  Also, no one mentions that Healthcilff might be Mr. Earnshaw’s son by a Liverpool whore.  There is no way to be certain that he and Cathy “hooked up” at the crag (as plainly shown/said in Part I).  Could it have happened?  As my mom said- yes, but people didn’t state these things explicitly then.   Heathcliff doesn’t physically abuse wife Isabella, though he says hurtful things and neglects her.

What didn’t work was the scene where Cathy confesses to Nelly her feelings for both Edgar and Heathcliff.  The actress didn’t put too much emphasis on these important lines.  Before he rode off, Healthcliff was supposed to hear part of her speech (Edgar wants to marry her, it would degrade her to marry a “servant”, and so on.)  But in this film, Healthcliff goes off while she starts talking about Edgar.  Too bad- missed opportunity for the director!

Ultimately, Heathcliff and Cathy’s love was obsessive and destructive.  Cathy was torn between Heathcliff (passion/uncertainty) and Edgar (wealth/respectability).  Because of his tortured past, Heathcliff was “more full of hate than love,” as Cathy says.  He wanted revenge so badly that he nearly destroyed the younger generation.  When he came back a rich gentleman, Healthcliff was unable to rid himself of his emotional baggage.  He was his own worst enemy!

Classic Movie Review: “Wuthering Heights” (1939)

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 This classic film stars Laurence Olivier (Heathcliff) and Merle Oberon (Cathy), and David Niven (Edgar Linton).  The music (at times) is a bit too much, but the acting is top-notch.  The characterization is close to the book, b/c HC can be quiet, intense, yet sweet.  C is quick, proud, and changeable.  The narrator, Ellen (sometimes also called Nelly) is the calm, observant housekeeper.

 

 

The boy Heathcliff (HC) tries to ride away on Mr. Earnshaw’s horse before his protector can even take him inside the house!   Hindley (H) grabs HC’s horse by the reins, then attacks him w/ a rock and his fists.  H also threatens to tell his father that HC will throw H out of the house when he was old enough.  (This is all made up by H, of course.)  Instead of crying, the little HC vows to “pay him back, no matter how long it takes.”

  

I really liked the scenes btwn the kids, such as riding fast though the moors, H pretending to be a prince defeating “a black knight,” and making C queen of his (actually a large crag).  HC, who is put in the role of stableboy, after Mr. E’s sudden death, is referred to by Hindley as “gypsy beggar” several times.  Finally, HC collapses into tears, realizing he has no protector, and won’t be able to speak to C.  HC works alongside Joseph, the older scripture-quoting manservant. 

 

 

The teenage HC tells C that “nothing’s real down there [Wuthering Hts], our life is here” when they hang out (as teens) at the crag.  C is the one who urges him to “run away and come back a prince” to “rescue me” from the controlling older brother.  (Since we’re talking about Olivier, HC really does look like a prince!)

 

 

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 One night, HC & C peep in on the Linton family having a big, fun party (music, dancing, fancy clothes).  These things appeal to C as she has no experience w/ them. 

 

 

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When C returns after several wks, in new clothes, w/ Edgar (E) in tow; she’s surprised that HC is still there.  Instead of hugging him, she treats him coldly.  There is great sadness in HC’s eyes in this scene.  But when she’s alone w/ Edgar, he calls HC a “begger” and “gypsy.”  C becomes very angry, and admits her feelings for HC!  E is shocked; he says that some of HC has rubbed off on C. 

HC & C are attacked my guard dogs outside (just as in other film versions), but here HC goes in and refuses to leave w/o C.  HC embraces the injured C, then she quietly tells him to leave.  Before he goes, HC curses the Lintons.  HC vows to return “and bring this house down.” 

 

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In the next scene, C casts off her new finery- the civilized world.  She runs to the crag, into HC’s arms, and exclaims that she “will never change.”  HC tells her how he (almost) sailed off to America while she was gone.  Then, while gathering arm heather, the young folks share their first kiss!

 

“My moods change indoors,” C lightly tells HC when he asks why Edgar is coming to W Hts again.  HC says that her “vanity” has changed her; C calls him “dirty.”  She says that he had a chance to escape and “be somebody,” but he didn’t take it.  Suddenly, HC slaps her with his dirty hands.  When walks down the stairs, his face is struck with regret.  Later, he shatters the barn windows with his bare hands!  Ellen is shocked to see what HC has done to himself; he admits his feelings to her.  When C comes down after her “date,” HC hides in a corner.  Next up is (perhaps the most important) scene in the book and film…

 

C is disappointed b/c HC has “grown worse” day by day.  She has decided to marry E, because she sees no other (sensible) choice.  “It would degrade me to marry him,” C says, but she also compares the Lintons to “angels” and “frost.”  She confesses that “HC is more of myself than I am.”  HC is suddenly heard galloping away from the house!  The horrified C runs out (in the wind, rain, and muck), calling his name and crying.  (In this version, she runs for a long while!)

 

When C is finally found, the Dr. Kenneth recommends that she stay for some time w/ Mr. Linton, Edgar, and his little sister, Isabella (I), at their house.  Staying with (the often drunk) HC would not give her “quiet” and “order,” the local doc comments.  E wants C to stay forever, so she agrees to marry him.  C tells him that she’s become “who I wanted to be.”  Though a “cold chill goes over the heart” moments after the wedding, C and E have “a growing love” the next few years.  

 

Then one night, Ellen announces that HC has returned (from America); he’s now “a fine gentleman.”  This is another crucial scene; HC and C are conversing (though their eyes).  HC bought W Hts and surrounding area secretly; H loaded down w/ gambling debts, could do nothing to change that.  When H asks for a drink, Joseph says that Dr. Kenneth forbade it.  (In this film, he doesn’t lose his young wife in childbirth, but he’s deeply depressed still.)  HC, the new master, tells Joseph to let H drink.  “I allow you to stay here,” HC coolly tells his former “brother.”  H, his hands shaking, threatens HC with a pistol.  But he can’t bring himself to kill.    

 

One day, I (who noticeably has a huge crush on the guy) makes up an excuse to visit HC at W Hts.  She says C is upset with him, as is E.  She wants to be a friend to HC.  He boldly tells her that she is “lonely,” and it “must be hard to be lonely in a happy house”.  

 

I invites HC to a party at the Grange, much to her father and brother’s surprise.  I says HC can hold her hand, but he only has eyes for C.  When I wants to dance the waltz w/ him, he comments that gypsies can dance, too.  (I thinks he refused b/c of his “high moral character.”  Poor, deluded girl!) 

 

Out on the balcony, C politely calls HC “grand and handsome.”  He quietly replies: “Life has ended for me.”  C gets distressed when he mentions their old life (they still changes moods so quick!), and tells him to never enter her house again.  He says their love is more powerful than both of them, and that “you willed me here across the sea,” he says. 

 

After the party, C warns I about HC.  (The two ladies have it out here- loudly!)   I says that HC loves her and wants them to marry.  C slaps her, telling her that “HC is not a man- but a dark thing!”  I says that C is jealous and doesn’t want HC to be happy, only “pine for you.”

 

C goes to see HC to corroborate I’s story.  More really good dialogue here…  C says not to punish I for what she has done.  HC says that if only C would love him like she used to, he’d “be her slave forever.”  But she has chosen “virtue” and “the world,” thinking of his kind of love as “vile.” 

 

When she tells E about the impending marriage, he runs up to I’s room.  Too late- she’s written a letter saying she’s run off w/ HC.  Watch C’s face as she tells her husband to “go after him with you pistols and stop them.”  It’s good stuff!  E realizes the strong hold HC still has on C.

 

Old, concerned Dr. Kenneth comes to see H (close to death), and notices how weak I is, too.  He sadly comments: “Whatever ails in this house is beyond my healing powers.”  The doc advises I to go back to her brother.  E needs her b/c C is “gravely ill.”  I’s reaction to this shocks the doc.

 

Soon after this, Nelly comes to W Hts to fetch I home.  But I still clings to HC, though he says that “only hate is in this house.”  HC quickly guesses that C is dying, and rides off toward the Grange.  Then we have the (very dramatic) scene at C’s deathbed; I liked this almost as much as the 1992 film (w/ Binoche and Fiennes)!   

  

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There were certain crucial scenes where Ralph Fiennes chose to play HC as quite dark and uncontrolled.  There is often an unstable look in his eyes, and a sneer on his face. 

 

 

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There is GREAT chemistry btwn Fiennes and (always terrific) Juliette Binoche.  Maybe this is b/c they are both so comfy in these roles; they don’t have to push to relate to these characs.  Binoche has ALL the right qualities to portray Cathy.

 

 

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Olivier, who looks powerful and striking even in rags, has a more controlled anger.  He’s able to become a (believable) gentleman, like in the book.  Fiennes was more threatening, even as a posh gent.  The moments of sadness/regret are very well done by both actors.  (It takes a mulit-faceted guy to get Heathcliff right!) 

 

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Check out BOTH of these films!