Copyright 2024
The Reader's Guide to Wuthering Heights

Movie and TV adaptations

For the benefit of those who would like to watch one of the various movies or TV series of Wuthering Heights, I have included this page examining those versions that I have personally seen. Apart from a general star rating which is my personal view, I try to avoid as much as possible general criticism of the version such as acting, direction, script, etc. since these are a matter of opinion and mine is no more preferable to anyone else. Instead I examine the objective aspects of the versions such as how much of the novel it covers, how accurate the characters and locations are, etc. I include an accuracy rating on the "I am Heathcliff" speech since it is one of the most famous and important parts of the book – it gives an idea of how accurate the adaptation is. "Coverage" means whether the adaptation covers only the Heathcliff/Catherine story or whether it includes Heathcliff's revenge on the younger generation.

Note: there are quite a few versions of Wuthering Heights but I only review those I have seen.

StarStarStarStarStar As far as the star ratings are concerned, the more the better.

The 1939 Movie (Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon)

Opening titles Wuthering Heights Heathcliff and Catherine
Link to Internet Movie Database  
Length: 100 mins  
Director: William Wyler Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Main Actors: Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, David Niven, Flora Robson
Locations: StarStar A farmhouse at least but a little too Gothic and too spacious.
Characters: Star Heathcliff too handsome and well spoken ― he was supposed to be far less attractive than Edgar; Isabella is as dark as Catherine when she is supposed to be a contrasting blonde; Edgar also dark-haired; Ellen too old; Joseph too pleasant; few Yorkshire accents.
"I am Heathcliff" Speech:StarStarStar Coverage: Single generation
Film Locations: Janss Conejo Ranch, Thousand Oaks, California, USA
My Rating: StarStar
I'm sorry, this may be a great love story and wonderful film in itself but, as an adaptation of Wuthering Heights, it is very poor. The accuracy is dreadful (the titles even say "Emily Bronté" rather than "Brontë" for heavens sake!), the characters are almost unrecognisable and the setting a century and a half out. Enjoy it as a romance but, if you watch it as a portrayal of the book, you will be disappointed.

The 1970 Movie (Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall)

Opening titles Wuthering Heights Heathcliff and Catherine
Link to Internet Movie Database  
Length: 100 mins  
Director: Robert Fuest Producer: Samuel Arkoff and James Nicholson
Main Actors: Timothy Dalton, Anna Calder-Marshall, Judy Cornwell, Julian Glover, Ian Ogilvy
Locations: StarStarStarStar Wuthering Heights is accurately shown as a large farmhouse, very close to the book (although the main room is still single-storeyed.
Characters: StarStarStar Generally good with Ellen shown as a teenager when Heathcliff arrives, a rare accuracy in Wuthering Heights adaptations. Frances is a little too sturdy and Isabella is not blonde.
"I am Heathcliff" Speech: Star Coverage: Single generation
Film Locations: Unidentified farmhouse in West Yorkshire (Wuthering Heights); Weston Hall, Otley, West Yorkshire (Thrushcross Grange); Brimham Rocks, Summerbridge, North Yorkshire (Penistone Crags)
My Rating: StarStar
The fact that it only covers the single generation rather than the whole story, and the poor coverage of the important speeches, reduces the rating for this version. There is no Lockwood and consequently no ghost at the window, an iconic moment.

The 1978 TV Series (Ken Hutchison and Kay Adshead)

Opening titles Wuthering Heights Heathcliff and Catherine
Link to Internet Movie Database  
Length: 255 mins  
Director: Peter Hammond Producer: Jonathan Powell
Main Actors: Ken Hutchison, Kay Adshead, John Duttine, Cathryn Harrison, Andrew Burleigh
Locations: StarStarStarStar A proper farmhouse, accurate even down to the carved porch and double height main room although rather short on outbuildings.
Characters: StarStarStar Generally resemble the book descriptions closely but seem weak at times: Joseph is not quite nasty enough, Cathy, at the beginning, not as reserved and unfriendly as the novel. Catherine (the mother) is also too old. Some of the acting, especially the children, is poor.
"I am Heathcliff" Speech: StarStarStarStarStar Coverage: Both generations
Film Locations:
My Rating: StarStar This is without a doubt the most accurate depiction of the novel, following the novel almost line by line. This is thanks in part to the long running time (at twice that of the others) but it is let down a little by the production values which often look clearly studio-bound and relying on poor special effects.

The 1992 Movie (Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche)

Opening titles Wuthering Heights Heathcliff and Catherine
Link to Internet Movie Database  
Length: 102 mins  
Director: Peter Kosminsky Producer: Mary Selway
Main Actors: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Sophie Ward, Janet McTeer, Simon Shepherd
Locations: StarStar Wuthering Heights is more like a gothic mansion than a farmhouse and stands alone, not with other farm buildings. The interior is rather darker than it should be although the 'house' (main room) is at least the full double height.
Characters: StarStar Some poor characterisation. Juliette Binoche plays both Catherines although there is supposed to be no similarity apart from their eyes; Isabella is a brunette rather than a blonde; Ellen is not stout enough. Lack of Yorkshire accents in main characters.
"I am Heathcliff" Speech: StarStarStar Coverage: Both generations
Film Locations: Aysgarth Falls, North Yorkshire; Broughton Hall, Broughton, Skipton, West Yorkshire (Thrushcross Grange); East Riddlesdon Hall, Keighley, West Yorkshire; Grassington, North Yorkshire (Wuthering Heights); Malham Cove, North Yorkshire; Malham Rocks, North Yorkshire; Shibden Hall, Halifax, West Yorkshire; Yorkshire Moors
Note: the building used for Wuthering Heights was specially constructed for the film and does not exist.
My Rating: StarStarStar
Loses out on some of the accuracy (see Locations and Characters above) but is a reasonable attempt at the novel and is not as bad as the critics suggest. Great atmospheric music from Ryuichi Sakamoto.

The 1998 TV Series (Robert Cavanah and Orla Brady)

Opening titles Wuthering Heights Heathcliff and Catherine
Link to Internet Movie Database  
Length: 113 mins  
Director: David Skynner Producer: Louise Berridge
Main Actors: Robert Cavanah, Orla Brady, Crispen Bonham-Carter, Ian Shaw, Ken Kitson
Locations: StarStarStar Wuthering Heights is a realistic-looking farmhouse although a little small.
Characters: StarStarStar Generally accurate physical appearances although Frances seems a little strong and Hareton is not quite right. Many characters have some Yorkshire accent.
"I am Heathcliff" Speech: StarStar Coverage: Both generations
Film Locations:
My Rating: StarStarStarStar
A little longer than the average movie, this means it can follow the full story without cutting back the details. My favourite of the versions I have watched, quite accurate to the book and well made.

The 2009 TV Movie (Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley)

Opening titles Wuthering Heights Heathcliff and Catherine
Link to Internet Movie Database  
Length: 180 mins  
Director: Coky Giedroyc Producer: Radford Neville
Main Actors: Tom Hardy, Charlotte Riley, Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Lancashire
Locations: StarStar Like the 1992 film, Wuthering Heights is portrayed like a gothic mansion, missing the farm buildings it should lie with. The interior also looks too grand.
Characters: StarStar Although the elder Catherine and Heathcliff look good (if still too old), many of the characters stray too far from the descriptions in the novel.
"I am Heathcliff" Speech: StarStar Coverage: Both generations
Film Locations: East Riddlesdon Hall, Keighley, West Yorkshire; Oakwell Hall, Batley, West Yorkshire; Yorkshire Moors, North Yorkshire; Stockeld Park, Wetherby, Yorkshire
My Rating: StarStar A confusing and unnecessary structure which starts three-quarters into the story, and too many alterations to the novel make this a poor adaptation of Emily's masterpiece. And the loss of the most iconic moment in Wuthering Heights — Catherine's ghost at the window — is unforgivable.
Read my review of this version

The 2011 TV Movie (James Howson & Kaya Scodelario)

Opening titles Wuthering Heights Heathcliff and Catherine
Link to Internet Movie Database  
Length: 129 mins  
Director: Andrea Arnold Producer: Robert Bernstein, Kevin Loader, Douglas Rae
Main Actors: James Howson, Kaya Scodelario, James Northcote, Lee Shaw, Simone Jackson
Locations: StarStarStar Suitably bleak looking farmhouse although a little small.
Characters: StarStar Little resemblance to the characters in the novel. Only saving grace is that Catherine is younger than previous adaptations and Heathcliff is not white.
"I am Heathcliff" Speech: StarStar Coverage: Single generation
Film Locations: Moor Close Farm, North Yorkshire; Cotescue Park, North Yorkshire; Thwaite, North Yorkshire
My Rating: Star Poor acting, script and camerawork combined with inaccuracies make this a dismal and passionless attempt at the novel.
Read my review of this version

Personal Recommendations

Below I list my recommendations on which of the adaptations are the best, both as the most accurate representation (fairly objective) and as my personal favourites (which is obviously very subjective). For the latter list, I always bear in mind that it is meant to be Wuthering Heights so it is not necessarily the best films per se, but the best versions of the book. That is why the highly rated 1939 version, great film as it may be, comes low on the list.

Most Accurate   Most Enjoyable
1978 (Hutchison/Adshead) 1st 1998 (Cavanah/Brady)
1998 (Cavanah/Brady) 2nd 1992 (Fiennes/Binoche)
1992 (Fiennes/Binoche) 3rd 1939 (Olivier/Oberon)
2009 (Hardy/Riley) 4th 1978 (Hutchison/Adshead)
1970 (Dalton/Calder-Marshall) 5th 2009 (Hardy/Riley)
2010 (Howson/Scodelario) 6th 1970 (Dalton/Calder-Marshall)
1939 (Olivier/Oberon) 7th 2010 (Howson/Scodelario)

Films and TV Series about the Brontë Family

If you are interested in learning more about Emily and her family, there are a few films and TV programmes made about them. Again, I only review those that I have personally seen.

The Brontës of Haworth (Yorkshire TV: 1973)

Opening titles Haworth The three sisters
Link to Internet Movie Database  
Length: 262 mins  
Director: Marc Miller Producer: Marc Miller
Main Actors: Alfred Burke, Vickery Turner, Michael Kitchen, Rosemary McHale, Ann Penfold
Locations: StarStarStarStar Many of the locations use the original sites such as the Parsonage so pretty authentic (although the Parsonage has changed since Victorian times).
Characters: StarStarStarStarStar The actors all resemble the real people, right down to their heights and hairstyles. When watching, you really feel you are watching the Brontë family. The acting is top quality.
My Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
An accurate and detailed version of the Brontë family story.

To Walk Invisible (BBC TV: 2016)

Opening titles The recreated Parsonage The three sisters
Link to Internet Movie Database  
Length: 120 mins  
Director: Sally Wainwright Producer: Karen Lewis
Main Actors: Finn Atkins, Chloe Pirrie, Charlie Murphy, Jonathan Pryce, Adam Nagaitis
Locations: StarStarStarStarStar Instead of using the actual Parsonage (the appearance and surroundings of which have changed much since the sisters' time), the producers built an accurate set of the Parsonage on the moors nearby. As a result it looks extremely realistic.
Characters: StarStarStarStarStar As with locations, the producers have done their research on the characters' appearances, with only the occasional errors (such as Patrick Brontë's missing Irish accent and the odd mispronunciation of "Brontë"). Very authentic.
My Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
Another accurate and believable version of the Brontë family story. Probably the best representation of Emily.