Reviews

The Brontë Collection

Lovers of all things Brontë will want to check out this BBC box set.


Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Director: Peter Sasdy, Julian Amyes, Mike Barker
Cast: Angela Scoular, Ian McShane, Zelah Clarke, Timothy Dalton, Tara Fitzgerald, Rupert Graves, Toby Stephens
Distributor: BBC
Studio: BBC
UK Release Date: N/A
US Release Date: 2009-10

Lovers of all things Brontë will want to check out the DVD box set The Bronte Collection, which includes three television miniseries from the seeming inexhaustible vaults of the BBC. This collection includes the 1967 production of Wuthering Heights, the 1983 version of Jane Eyre, and the 1996 adaptation of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Taken together, they offer an interesting look at how the conventions of television adaptation have changed over the years but the viewer must be prepared for three very different productions in miniseries format (including introductions and closing credits for each episode) which don’t have much in common other than the fact that they were produced by the BBC and are based on source material written by the Brontë sisters.

The rarest gem in The Bronte Collection is the previously-unreleased 1967 BBC production of Wuthering Heights adapted by Hugh Leonard, directed by Peter Sasdy and starring Angela Scoular (Cathy), Ian McShane (Heathcliff) and Drewe Henley (Edgar Linton). It holds great interest for scholars of television history and literary adaptation while casual viewers may find it the least approachable of the three productions in the set.

This Wuthering Heights has a distinctly old-fashioned feel complete, with introductory narrations in the finest Queen’s English while the dramatic black-and-white cinematography works better in the exterior scenes than in the interiors which often seem distorted by tight framing. Somewhat surprisingly, Leonard reconfigures the source material to present the story in chronological order but in another way it’s more faithful to Emily Brontë’s novel than most film versions (including the 1939 William Wyler film starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon) because it follows the characters into the second generation and thus includes the stories of Heathcliff’s and Cathy’s children.

The 1983 Masterpiece Theatre production of Jane Eyre adapted by Alexander Baron, directed by Julian Amyes and starring Zelah Clarke (Jane), Timothy Dalton (Rochester), Sian Pattenden (young Jane) and Andrew Bicknell (Saint John Rivers) will please lovers of Heritage Television although to viewers not familiar with that style the beauty of the presentation may seem out of sync with the gothic elements of Charlotte Brontë’s novel. It runs over five hours in 11 episodes, and sticks closely to the original novel, including many events often omitted from feature film adaptations. The cinematography and attention to period detail are first-rate but dramatic tension is frequently lacking as the actors, particularly Clarke, often seem emotionally unengaged while Dalton is far too handsome and not nearly threatening enough to convince as Rochester.

The 1996 production of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as adapted by Janet Baron and David Nokes and directed by Mike Barker represents only the second screen adaptation of Ann Brontë’s novel (the other was a 1968 BBC miniseries) in comparison to at least 21 film or television versions of Jane Eyre and 15 of Wuthering Heights. The reasons for this relative neglect lie in the novel itself: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is primarily concerned with dramatizing the oppression of women in 19th century England and the domestic violence and child abuse which took place behind the respectable façade of many Victorian marriages. Psychological complexity takes a back seat to social realism and melodrama, limiting the material’s appeal to modern readers.

This adaptation features excellent production values (this series won awards for makeup and hair, production design, camera and original score) but is hampered by the melodramatic nature of the story which depicts the struggles of Helen (Tara Fitzgerald) to free herself and her son from the clutches of an abusive husband (Rupert Graves) and start life anew with the sympathetic Gilbert Markham (Toby Stephens).

The on-screen portrayals of domestic violence sometimes verge on the lurid (marital rape, alcoholic rages) and may upset viewers expecting soothing nostalgia while anyone thinking about showing it in a classroom should be aware than the British Board of Film Censors considers this series unsuitable for viewers under the age of 15. For older students, however, it could be useful in prompting discussions about changing legal and societal attitudes toward women, children and marriage.

Although it contains no extras other than English subtitles, The Bronte Collection offers good value (over 11 hours of programming) for those with a strong interest in the material. But because one of the productions (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) is based on a decidedly minor literary work while the other two stake no claim to be the definitive version of their often-adapted source material, this is ultimately a set of greater interest to Anglophiles, scholars of television history, and English teachers looking for something to show their classes than to the general viewing public.

Note to our UK readers: the BBC Bronte Collection advertised at bbcshop.com includes the 1978 production of Wuthering Heights rather than the 1967 version included in the collection reviewed here (which is available from bbcamericashop.com).

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.