Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, adapted by Bryony Lavery

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BBC Radio 7, 17-21 August 2009
Books are a dangerous source of knowledge, particularly if they fall into the wrong hands. That was the stark message of Janet Whittaker's adaptation of the Bronte classic, which transformed the story into a melodrama of female potentiality, in which Heathcliff (John Duttine) vainly endeavoured to impose his authority on those around him. Although capable of great love, he remained detached from everyone - especially Cathy (Amanda Root) and Catherine (Emma Fielding). It was as if he was frightened of commitment, yet could not admit his shortcomings to anyone; the only way he could deal with them was through violence towards women. By this means Whittaker showed the limitations of patriarchy; in their view Heathcliff did not deserve his position as hero of Bronte's novel. The true possessor of self-knowledge was Nelly (Sharon Duce), who remained content with her social position. Unlike the men around her, she realized that prosperity was nothing more than a male-oriented strategy, designed to reinforce their domination over women.
The production's focus on Heathcliff's shortcomings was emphasized by the casting of Duttine in the role. Although an accomplished character actor, he has made his name by playing flawed heroes - many years ago he starred in an acclaimed adaptation of Delderfield's To Serve Them All My Days. In Wuthering Heights Heathcliff's principal shortcoming was one of insecurity - emphasized by the actor's use of a stammer, which he tried to cover up by shouting louder and louder. Eventually the ordeal proved too much for him; unable to face the outside world any longer, he retreated to a life of isolation in his study.
By contrast the female characters - particularly Catherine - embarked on a journey of emotional growth. Partly this was achieved through life-experiences; but books also played an important part. Unlike some of the other Bronte heroines (for example, Agnes Grey in Anne Bronte's novel of the same name), Emily's characters in this adaptation did not confuse romantic fiction and real life. Rather they made use of the knowledge gleaned from books to develop self-awareness. This rendered them a potential threat both to Heathcliff's masculinity and his authority as master of the house. By the end of the adaptation Catherine (with Cathy as a ghostly presence in the background) was in the ascendancy, even though she appeared to occupy a socially inferior position to Heathcliff.
This was a low-key adaptation, avoiding the melodramatic excesses associated with the recent ITV adaptation - for example, Heathcliff bursting into tears. Rather Whittaker showed how his life was dominated by "unquiet slumbers" as he tried and failed to assert his masculinity.

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