Book To Movie Adaptations: Wuthering Heights (1992) & Vanity Fair (2004)

Wuthering Heights (1992)

There are many different versions of Wuthering Heights. First was from 1939, then 1970 and several TV movies, while the latest in 2011. However, I chose to watch the 1992 version because I recognized the actors and thought the 90’s would at least offer some substance to it.

Catherine Earnshaw is a spoil brat who lives in a Gothic mansion called Wuthering Heights. Before her father died, he adopted a “gypsy” boy and raised him as his own. The boy name is Heathcliff and as years went by, he become closer to his adopted sister Catherine. However, Catherine broke his heart when she agrees to marry her neighbour Edgar Linton and causing Heathcliff to leave the premise. Years later, Heathcliff returns and bought Wuthering Heights from Catherine’s brother and hold him and his son prisoner because of debt problem. Heathcliff then marry Catherine’s sister-in-law just to pissed her off. After Catherine died giving birth to a baby girl, Heathcliff become more demented with rage and jealousy. What happens next is a tale of revenge, vengeance and insane hatred that is fucking depressing.

Directed by Peter Kosminsky and written by Anne Devlin, this version of Wuthering Heights feels wrong from the first scene. Instead of letting Mrs Dean, the caretaker, as the narrator, the director hired Sinead O’Connor (yes, the singer) to portray the late author Emily Bronte! That’s not even the weirdest part. The movie starts and ends by jumping through hoops, throwing Catherine and Heathcliff forced romance to our face. The romance between Heathcliff and Catherine is known as demonic and feverish. They live in their own world and follow their own rules. However, that case cannot be applied here. The romance in this movie makes me sick, but not in a good way. The lack of depth, substance and budget leave a sour impression in my mind.

Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche’s acting is the other problem, and given how they become two of world’s renowned movie stars is a nice surprise. Fiennes’ Heathcliff has disturbing hair style and bitter accent. His body language resembles Tarzan than uncivilized brute in the novel. On the other hand, Binoche’s Catherine lacks of British accent and words in general; she barely speaks. She is playful, I give you that, but that doesn’t mean she is the psychotic character from Bronte’s novel. While reading the book, I never thought the two of them are smart, but they are not retarded either. The only redeeming actor in this flick is Janet McTeer, who while only possessing few lines to say, managed to act better.

I understand the lack of budget in the movie: tainted picture and cheap display; but that’s okay. Because to produce a movie, you don’t necessarily need a ton of cash. What you need is someone who actually understands what they are doing rather than clinging hard to the acclaimed novel and hope things will turn out well. There was no demonic love here, there was no hatred nor vengeance, and jealousy is nowhere to be found. The movie may appeal to those who haven’t read the novel, but even then, it’s too inferior to recommend.

Vanity Fair (2004)

Vanity Fair is a satirical novel written by William Makepeace Thackeray. The novel is long, but filled with many hilarious and exaggerated parody of the English in the Victorian era. The novel’s narrator is Thackeray himself, penning play-like words, phrases and hyperbolic statement. Mira Nair’s Vanity Fair, however, chose not to include the narrator trick and give the movie a minor tweak of her own.

The story follows the lives of two very different women: Amelia Sedley (played by Romola Garai) and Becky Sharp (played by Reese Witherspoon) in 18th century England. We follow their life from young graduates to having children of their own. Amelia is your typical kind-hearted and beautiful woman. She has a decent IQ, but opt not to use it most of the time. When things got difficult, Amelia won’t stand up and fight, instead she will cry her eyes out and wait for Prince Charming to come to her rescue. On the other side, we have Becky Sharp. The most cunning, witty, gorgeous but poor woman. She is the daughter of a painter and a French opera singer, which her place is at the lowest rank in the old society, Becky is persistent to change her luck and social status by finding herself the perfect husband.

Becky got the chance for a better life when Amelia’s brother Jos falls for her charm. In the novel, Jos made a fool out of himself and leave England cause of shame. In the movie, Jos choose not to propose Becky because George Osborne told him about their social difference, which means a big No-No. Ah George Osborne, the dumbest man of them all. He is rich, ignorant and horny as a bulldog. Despite his horrendous qualities, he is engaged and soon-to-be-married to Amelia who adores him like there is no tomorrow.

Becky then become the governess (private tutor) to the daughters of the Crawley’s: aristocrat of some sort. Given Becky clever scheming, she managed to befriend the old spinster Crawley and move away to London. There she lives happily before marrying the young heir, Rawdon Crawley. Alas, the marriage didn’t get the approval as planned and Becky needs to find another way, such as plotting and preying from another gentlemen for money as well as to advance her social status in London.

The plot span decades, making the novel and the movie a character study of two female in the Victorian era. Despite the enthusiastic novel’s ending, Mira Nair managed to “humanized” Vanity Fair. She made Becky less cunning and sly. She even managed to give an ambiguous ending for our heroine. This so-called move pissed off many people and I understand that. But, those people forget the one aspect that Thackeray imposed in his novel: satirical. A movie can only work with happy ending or a tragic one. As the novel didn’t offer that, I applaud Mira Nair’s choice to conclude it in such a way, that it doesn’t mislead nor it affected the novel in any way.

I also like the far-out Indian culture and music score imbued here. This decision will make viewers cringe and questioned Mira’s choice cause of her ethnic background, however the answer is none of the above. If you get Thackeray mockery, you will get the out-of-place Bollywood aesthetics in the movie: the British are fascinated by all things exotic even the one’s they couldn’t understand.

Reese Witherspoon is not British, but she is Rebecca Sharp alright. Her feature matches Mrs Crawley’s description and her “air-headed” look suits as the cunning Becky. I do like Reese Witherspoon in a few movies, but I loved her in this role. Romola Garai as the naive Amelia Sedley also stole several scenes, while Jonathan Rhys Meyers is perfect as the pompous George Osborne. Rhys Ifans managed to make William Dobbin tolerable, where else James Purefoy suits the role as Rawdon Crawley.

Overall, Vanity Fair is an interesting take on the classic novel. Even if you are not interested in the Victorian angle, you should watch this just to amuse yourself. Because I find the movie hilarious and entertaining, just like William Makepeace Thackeray intended.

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