ITV suits poring over last night’s viewing figures may discover an unexpected demographic tuning in to their latest period drama.
More than 160 years after Wuthering Heights was first published, Emily Brontë’s classic is finding favour with a girl-tween generation obsessed with the tale of another brooding misfit. In the third instalment of Twilight, the hugely popular fantasy-romance franchise, the heroine compares the fanged object of her desires (a 104-year-old vampire with identity issues) to Brontë’s Heathcliff. Cue a huge run on Wuthering Heights at Waterstone’s, where the book has climbed to the top of the classics chart.
If this new generation of Brontë fans was also moved to join their parents on the sofa last night, I couldn’t tell you what they might have thought of the first half of Wuthering Heights (which concludes tonight). But this twentysomething viewer – and, I should declare, Brontë ignoramus – was reasonably entertained by 90 minutes of Victorian melodrama.
The screenwriter Peter Bowker should be commended for even tackling this complex story of class, revenge and everlasting love denied. The man behind the BBC’s Desperate Romantics took a Stanley knife (literally, he claims) to Brontë’s original, rearranging pages in chronological order before filleting adaptation stumbling blocks, including the entire narrator role of Lockwood. So it was left to the long-suffering housekeeper Nelly (Sarah Lancashire) to guide us through the doomed romance of Catherine Earnshaw and her Heathcliff, a foundling rescued from the streets of Liverpool.
Tom Hardy, who played the frustrated love interest as Robert Dudley in the BBC’s The Virgin Queen, was on typically fine form as Heathcliff. Darker than the skies above the “Heights”, he was at once terrifying and sympathetic, but never drifted into broody caricature. The lesser-known Teesside actress Charlotte Riley was almost his equal as Catherine, and perfectly channelling the girl’s mischievous romanticism. Meanwhile, Burn Gorman stood out among the supporting cast with his suitably reptilian Hindley, the evil step-brother.
But it was in the central love scenes that the adaptation foundered. There were enough furtive exchanges, escalating from a chaste cheek-peck to a full-on make-out session on the moors, but the sparks never really flew. The passion shared by the young protagonists was plain to see but, crucially (especially if you’re a 14-year-old Twilight fan) it was never really felt.
From a Victorian heroine-of-sorts to real-life lionhearts in the first part of Channel 4’s documentary series, Atlantic Convoys: the War at Sea. While the troops waged war in Europe, a waterborne campaign was being fought on the other side of an increasingly embattled Britain. From the very first hours of the Second World War, when a German U-boat sunk a passenger liner, Churchill and Hitler locked horns in a six-year battle over the Canadian supply lines that were keeping Britain afloat. The terrifyingly efficient naval commander Karl Dönitz used his fearsome U-boats to devastating effect, ultimately killing 30,000 men and sinking millions of tonnes of vital food, fuel and machinery. As Washington sat on its hands, untrained merchant seamen from all corners of the Commonwealth were often sitting ducks in giant convoys surrounded by Dönitz’s deadly U-boat wolfpacks.
The first of four episodes combined reconstructions and interviews to recount the tit-for-tat sinkings, and the fall of France (which brought much of the eastern Atlantic within range of German torpedoes). The most touching moment came with the words of Colin Ryder Richardson. One of just 13 out of 90 children to survive the sinking of the evacuee ship SS City of Benares, he showed the lifejacket his mother had given him for the journey. Pulling out the handkerchief she had placed in a pocket, Ryder Richardson broke down in tears. With the recent death of the Last Tommy, there will be nobody to tell the untold stories of Harry Patch’s war. We should make more documentaries about men like Ryder Richardson and the unsung heroes of the battle of the Atlantic while we can.
One wonders what Brontë would have made of Rebecca Arnold, the brains behind How to Snare a Millionaire, Channel 4’s latest documentary from new film-makers. Similarly frustrated in love, albeit in rather different circumstances, the 28-year-old producer delivered 30 minutes of television that defied categorisation and, almost, belief.
It all started pretty conventionally as Arnold announced that she was “broke and desperate not to remain a Cinderella singleton forever”, but a few minutes in things went nuts as she burst into song. Plumbing new depths of lyrical banality (“What’s wrong with me, am I strange?/I’m hopeless, I can’t find a man/Each time I meet one, he bales/And when I think I’ve won, I’ve failed”), she cavorted about her posh west London flat (she didn’t seem that broke) with full musical backing.
Then came the three-stage mission to get a man. First, she mixed with the bijous set (fail), then found a 58-year-old biker at Sugardaddie.com (fail), before scoring a date with a swarthy banker type in Cannes (snog, fail). Finding herself back at square one, Arnold ended as she finished – in song – and again I had to watch through my fingers.Reuse content