Revenge makes for a heavy 'Heights'

PBS via associated pressCharlotte Riley plays Cathy and Tom Hardy is Heathcliff in the PBS production of ''Wuthering Heights.'' PBS via associated pressCharlotte Riley plays Cathy and Tom Hardy is Heathcliff in the PBS production of ''Wuthering Heights.'' (PBS via associated press)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / January 17, 2009
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'Sometimes, your true passion is hate rather than love," Cathy says to Heathcliff in PBS's "Wuthering Heights."

That line qualifies as serious understatement in this new adaptation of the Emily Bronte classic, which airs as a two-part "Masterpiece Theatre" beginning tomorrow at 9 p.m. on Channel 2. In this miniseries, Heathcliff is something of a revenge-crazed monster, embodying all the baser elements of mankind. He is a beastly, sneering fellow, played by Tom Hardy with absolutely none of Laurence Olivier's tortured romantic aura.

And that relentlessly primitive approach to Heathcliff, culminating next Sunday in a truly unfortunate plot diversion from the novel, undermines this "Wuthering Heights." From beginning to end, you can hardly understand Cathy's all-consuming connection to Heathcliff, who was brought home by Cathy's father as an orphaned street boy. The miniseries doesn't inject their relationship with the novel's raw, indescribable harmony, the supernatural merging of souls. It contains no ghosts, no disembodied voices. Instead, Cathy and Heathcliff are more like a pair of profoundly insecure lovers.

The PBS "Wuthering Heights" is framed by the less mythic story of young Cathy Linton and Linton Heathcliff, the children of the central story's primary characters. These kids are puppets for the embittered, aging Heathcliff, who is acting out his grief at having lost his Cathy many years earlier. The miniseries also gets into Heathcliff's early abuse at the hands of Cathy's brother, Hindley (Burn Gorman), and, later, Heathcliff's repayment to Hindley for that mistreatment.

But the narrative centerpiece is, of course, the past-tense triangle of Cathy, Heathcliff, and Edgar Linton (Andrew Lincoln), and Heathcliff's torment at having lost his great love to the more civilized, wealthy gentleman. Because Hardy's Heathcliff is so demonic and stubborn, Cathy - played by Charlotte Riley - looks almost saintly by comparison. And that's really too bad, since she should be partly responsible for the mess that ensues. How much more engaging for the "Wuthering Heights" audience it is when both lovers are to blame for their failure.

As Cathy, Riley is fine but, as she sets off for romps through the moors with Heathcliff, maybe a little too much of a modern bohemian.

I can't say this "Wuthering Heights" is a mess; it contains enough physical beauty and dramatic affect to sweep you along to the bitter end. You could do worse. But if you are craving an operatic story of love that couldn't survive earthly form, you'd be better off getting out your reading glasses.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at For more on TV, visit

WUTHERING HEIGHTS Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlotte Riley, Rebecca Night, Sarah Lancashire, Tom Payne

On: PBS, Channel 2

Time: Sunday, 9-10:30

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