Darkly menacing, untamable and with a hint of a savage.
What’s not to love about literary hero Heathcliff? He is misunderstood – deeply complicated and in need of that one person who truly loves and understands him — the exemplification of the bad boy who we all want to fix. There have been many dashing leading men who have taken on the hard task of playing him on stage and on screen over the years, but who was best?
Heathcliff is the romantic hero (or anti-hero) of the 1847 gothic novel, Wuthering Heights by author Emily Bronte. The classic book tells the passionate love story of Heathcliff and Cathy and the revenge Heathcliff brings to everyone surrounding him once he loses her. It was surprising that such an intense story could be born from the brain of a woman who never married and supposedly never had a lover.
Heathcliff’s TV and movie career aren’t as well-known as his fellow literary leading man Mr Darcy.
There have only been five well-known adaptations, but perhaps the most famous would have to be the 1939 classic starring Sir Laurence Olivier in the central role. This film is the most romanticized, probably to keep up with the biggest movie of that year – the romantic epic Gone with the Wind. The second half of the book is left out, which deals with Heathcliff’s more vengeful and tyrannical side, painting him as the victim of the story as opposed to the aggressor.
The closest to the novel and least romantic would be Tom Hardy’s famous portrayal in the 2009 mini-series. Kathryn Flett of The Guardian perfectly summed up Hardy’s Heathcliff as “…thoroughly dangerous to know in all the right ways, entirely capable of making even careworn middle-aged women rend their garments, tear their hair and head for the moors.”
My opinion? Olivier did it best. Because it is more romantic? Probably, I am a hopeless romantic at heart. It was my first taste of Wuthering Heights at a young and impressionable 16 years old, and I became one of the girls who fell in love with Heathcliff. And I blame Laurence Olivier for it.
If you are new to the world of Wuthering Heights, I insist you read the book. It will be a bumpy ride, I assure you. And then I suggest you watch the 1939 movie before any other adaptation. Yes, it is different from the book, and if you are looking for a faithful retelling, this isn’t it. But I believe it is powerful enough to stand alone and to make you fall in love with the tyrant himself. Just don’t blame me if you do.