Sunday, 18 August 2013

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)

Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was first adapted by the BBC back in 1968 but that version is no longer available. Even this 1996 adaptation wasn't available on DVD until 2008! This version is a three hour miniseries that was also made by the BBC and it's got some fairly famous actors in it. Toby Stephens (Mr Rochester from the 2006 Jane Eyre adaptation) plays Gilbert Markham. Rupert Graves (Lestrade from the BBC's Sherlock) plays Arthur Huntingdon. Tara Fitzgerald (Mrs Reed from the 2006 Jane Eyre adaptation) plays Helen Graham and James Purefoy plays Mr Lawrence. However, this adaptation still doesn't seem to be particularly well-known. This might be because it was fairly hard to get a hold of until recently but I suspect it's probably because Anne Bronte's book just isn't that famous in comparison with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. This is a downright shame because The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a brilliant book and this 1996 miniseries is a decent adaptation.

Overall, I enjoyed this adaptation of Anne Bronte's book but it's far from perfect and is very flawed. I have a few issues with this miniseries, one being Tara Fitzgerald's Helen. Fitzgerald's acting is by no means bad but the way that she played Helen wasn't anything like the Helen that I pictured when I read the book. Fitzgerald was much too cold and distant for my liking and because of that I didn't find her Helen as likeable as Book
Helen. In the book, Helen is afraid of letting people get too close to her so to a certain extent she's fairly reserved and aloof. This is partly due to her past experiences and partly because she's afraid of the villagers finding out who she really is. However, Fitzgerald takes this too far in my opinion and if I hadn't read the book I think I'd have wondered just what exactly Gilbert Markham sees in her. Also, Fitzgerald is a beautiful woman but she has a very unflattering hairstyle for most of this miniseries.

Thankfully I was much happier with the two leading males in this adaptation. I loved Toby Stephens as Gilbert! I much preferred his Gilbert Markham to his Mr Rochester! Stephens is a very attractive man and Gilbert's less appealing character traits are toned down in this adaptation. Rupert Graves gives a brilliant performance as Arthur Huntingdon as well. His Huntingdon was exactly like the Huntingdon that I imagined when I read the book. Graves is a very attractive man as well and in the early scenes you can see why Helen falls for his character. Aside from his looks, his Huntingdon is very charming. His bad qualities are still evident to the audience but, every time it looks as though Helen is about to see Huntingdon for who he really is, he's able to charm her back to his side. And later on, Graves does a brilliant job with Huntingdon's mood swings. One moment he's loving, affectionate and charming. In the next moment he's nasty, insensitive and spiteful. I also really enjoyed James Purefoy as Helen's brother Mr Lawrence but sadly his role wasn't big enough. His subplot was cut for time.

Another major issue that I have with this miniseries is that it's really sexed-up. Why did they feel the need to show Helen and Huntingdon in bed together? Did they think we needed to see Huntingdon making out with Lady Lowborough against a door? There's also a scene where Huntingdon throws Helen down onto the floor during an argument. He's clearly thinking about raping her but then he seems to think better of it. *Sighs* It really annoys me when adaptations of classic novels feel the need to "spice up" the content. Why do they feel the need to do this? The reader already knows that these things are going on in the book without the author shoving it into their face so why do screenwriters feel the need to do this in their adaptations? Finally, another thing that really bothered me in this miniseries is that the villagers make comments on how Mr Lawrence and Helen's son resemble each other. They look absolutely nothing alike!

Overall, I would recommend this miniseries but not unreservedly. I'm not going to say "OMG it's amazing! You have to see it!" or whatever because it isn't. It isn't a spectacular adaptation. However, it is a decent one. It's mostly very well-acted and I enjoyed Toby Stephens, Rupert Graves and James Purefoy's performances. This miniseries does have quite a dark and gritty look to it which I liked. It fit with the subject matter. This adaptation is well-shot and it's got some surprisingly inventive and modern camera-work at times. Also, this adaptation is actually quite faithful to the book for the most part. The only major changes from the book are that the framing device, in which Gilbert explains his past in letters to his brother-in-law, is dropped and that the outcomes for some of the secondary characters are removed. This miniseries is also the only Anne Bronte adaptation that's currently available so it's worth a watch for that at least! This miniseries will fit the bill until a new and hopefully better adaptation of the book comes along.

Rating: 3/5

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