TBT: Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1992)

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Wuthering Heights was my favorite novel as a teenager because, of course, it fit my angsty, romantic gothic self. I’m still angsty and goth, but now I’m bitter and jaded so now I see the characters and plot for the simplistic archetypes they are, tucked up underneath all that poetry. And since much of what makes Emily Brontë’s novel great is the language, when adapted for screen, all that tends to come thru is the ridiculousness of the plot and characters. Only a couple adaptions touch at some of the poetry, and I find this 1992 one titled Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights pretty good.

Even though this is just a 105-minute film, it manages to include all the major plot points of the novel, from Lockwood to the second generation and does mostly in costumes of the right historical periods. As I complained in my big wrap-up of all the TV and movie versions of this novel, one thing that productions frequently get wrong is the story’s carefully laid out timeline. Brontë writes in the book that the action starts in 1801 and is told in flashback, so the main action takes place from 1780 to 1784. Costume-wise, this means we should see two distinct eras in clothing: the flashback / main story is in 18th-century fashion, while the “current day” story is in early 19th-century / Regency fashion. With the caveat that the whole novel is set at two big manor houses in the wild Yorkshire moors, with one family being wealthier than the other.

Oscar-winning designer James Acheson (Dangerous Liaisons, Restoration, The Last Emperor) created the costumes for this film, and it’s the best-looking Wuthering Heights around (not a high bar, but still). So I’m going to go through this wuthering wardrobe from start to finish, mostly looking at the women because I find them more interesting and their fashion shows the progression of time better.

As a refresher, check out this family tree someone posted on Wikipedia — the portraits aren’t perfect, but the dates are taken from the novel.

 

This movie opens with the 1801 framing story. Except … here’s Cathy Linton in solidly 18th-c. dress and her hair running wild. Now, the hair will be a theme with  everyone living at Wuthering Heights. I guess it’s a symbol of the wild moors or something. Totes cliche! But IDK why the dress is 20-ish years out of date.

Cathy Linton - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Nice use of plaid though.

Alrighty then, after the ghost bits, we flashback to the real start of the story, when young Heathcliff is brought to the family by old Mr. Earnshaw in 1771. These scenes work from a costume-showing-the-correct-historical-period POV.

Cathy Earnshaw young - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Mr. Earnshaw wears a tricorn hat & a powdered wig with side buckles (rolls). That’s Cathy Earnshaw as a girl.

Cathy Earnshaw young - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Full view of young Cathy in a simple 18th-c. gown. Hair down is fine for a young girl.

Heathcliff young - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Young Heathcliff is appropriately dressed like a little gentleman by his adoptive father.

Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw die, Cathy’s asshole older brother Hindley takes over the house. Fast-forward a decade, and we get older actors.

Cathy Earnshaw - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Heathcliff & Cathy tromping about on the moors. Nice close-up of Cathy’s gown. Stripes will be a costume theme for her. Nobody has hair pins, alas.

Cathy Earnshaw - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Lightened to show detail. This was filmed in the Yorkshire Dales National Park in England, on limestone rocks below Ingleborough Mountain.

Cathy Linton in 1801, young Cathy Earnshaw in 1771, and grown-up Cathy Earnshaw in 1780-ish are all wearing the same style of gown. Now, the ‘night gown’ or ‘robe a l’anglaise’ had lots of variations, but this essential style is plausible for the two earlier decades. It’s stretch to find someone wearing it for longer, IMO.

nightgown/robe à l'anglaise front

Left, robe a l’anglaise, British, 1776. Right, robe a l’anglaise, American, 1785-95. Both from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Heathcliff and Cathy run around, peek in at Thrushcross Grange where the fancy-pants Lintons live, but they’re caught. Cathy gets hurt and is stuck. This is our first chance to see upper-class 18th-c. clothes and hair. Presumably the families at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange are of similar social status, as their both the only landowners out the middle of bumfuck nowhere. But the Lintons wear silk, style their hair, and have more servants.

Edgar & Isabella Linton - Wuthering Heights (1992)

There’s Edgar Linton with some weirdly Farrah Fawcett hair but quite a nice embroidered waistcoat. His younger sister Isabella Linton wears a “zone” style gown (very fashionable in the 1780s), with a bit of stripes (sympathetic to Cathy?), & she has her hair styled in a small pouf.

ca. 1778 - The Oliver and Ward Families by Francis Wheatley

ca. 1778 – Detail from The Oliver and Ward Families by Francis Wheatley

Isabella & Mr. Linton - Wuthering Heights (1992)

The spiral lacing on the front of Isabella’s gown is a nice decorative touch. Old Mr. Linton wears conservative but elegant brown velvet, & I think his hair is tied in a queue. Note all the servants in the background.

Isabella & Mrs. Linton - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Hard to get a better view of Isabella’s hair, but there’s some curls in the back. Mrs. Linton is behind the couch where Cathy lays, but I got a brief glimpse that she’s wearing a francaise, which seems right for an older lady of means.

Isabella - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Yay, no back-lacing on Isabella’s gown!

Cathy’s asshole brother and his pregnant wife, Frances, greet her when Cathy returns after recuperating.

maternity - Wuthering Heights (1992)

I know it’s not the most exciting thing, but I appreciate how this 18th-c. gown with a pinned-on stomacher is shown used as maternity wear.

Staying with the Lintons turns Cathy on to the finer things in life. She still can’t put her hair up but, hey, silk dresses sure are nice.

Cathy Earnshaw - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Cathy’s new yellow dress is gorgeous & really makes her stand out.

Cathy Earnshaw - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Back shows all those little stitched-down pleats in the bodice & full, pleated skirt. But ugh, so much hair.

Compare with the back of this French gown, a robe à l’anglaise, c. 1775, from Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Cathy Earnshaw - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Close-up where Cathy sees how her new gloves got dirty from hugging Heathcliff.

The Wuthering Heights people and the Thrushcross Grange people have a party to, I guess, celebrate that Cathy’s back home? In the book, it’s for Christmas but that’s not made clear in this movie.

Wuthering Heights (1992)

Who are all those people dancing? Where’d they get the musicians from? I have questions.

Hindley & Isabella - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Hindley (in his one good suit) drunkly chats up Isabella (who has a new dress that isn’t really shown, but the same hairstyle as earlier).

Frances - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Hindley’s wife is not happy. But the fussy little cap is appropriate for a married pregnant lady, & the bit of embroidery on her gown shows they aren’t actually poor.

Cathy & Edgar - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Cathy & Edgar get cutesy. He has a new suit, still very posh with a patterned waistcoat. But surfer dude hair, WHY?

Cathy - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Cathy’s party gown is a lovely aqua blue with a bit of self-trim & a pink petticoat.

Cathy hangs around the Heights just long enough after this to give the iconic speech that Heathcliff half-overhears and gets pissed off by and leaves for a few years.

Cathy - Wuthering Heights (1992)

I wish I could get better screencaps or find a promo pic of this because her skirt has gorgeous embroidered panels in the front.

Cathy - Wuthering Heights (1992)

And this sky blue jacket is beautifully made.

1780s - Woman's jacket, British. V&A Museum.

Compare with this 1780s woman’s jacket at the V&A Museum.

Cathy marries Edgar and moves to Thrushcross Grange, where they make a boring little family with Isabella.

Wuthering Heights (1992)

I haven’t mentioned Nelly yet — she’s the servant who’s just a little bit older than Cathy and Heathcliff, and she follows Cathy to Thrushcross Grange (and later serves Cathy and Edgar’s daughter, following her back to Wuthering Heights). In the novel, chunks of the story are told through her POV, but not in this movie or any other filmed adaption that I recall.

Wuthering Heights (1992)

The stomacher & laced-front make her gown seem slightly out of date, so maybe a hand-me-down for a servant? It does work to make Nelly look a little older but still proper.

Heathcliff visits, after having disappeared for a couple years. Good thing Cathy’s wearing a nice dress!

Cathy - Wuthering Heights (1992)

The color doesn’t come through in the screencaps, but this is a pale mint green tone-on-tone stripe.

Cathy - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Heathcliff is not impressed. But you can see how he’s cleaned up his act & is wearing better quality clothes, all in black, clean, & well-tailored, plus his hair is pulled back in a relatively period queue.

Compare Heathcliff to Cathy’s hubby:

Edgar - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Very formal & prissy. Very blond & still with the un-historical hairstyle.

With Healthcliff back in the picture, Cathy’s out and about, and Isabella’s tagging along in wanna-be matchy outfits.

Cathy & Isabella - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Great hats in straw with enough trimmings to be fashionable but not so much as to be haute couture of the period (which would be more appropriate for wealthy city-dwellers).

Cathy & Isabella - Wuthering Heights (1992)

LOVE these velvet riding jackets. This is the one time Isabella is wearing stripes (for her waistcoat) instead of Cathy.

1780s-91 - riding habits

Many women’s riding habits from the 18th century have a militaristic, masculine look, but a few are more delicate like these, left to right: detail from Vauxhall Gardens, ca. 1784, by Thomas Rowlandson; Lady on Horseback, 1785, by José Campeche; Journal des Luxus, 1791.

Cathy - Wuthering Heights (1992)

In the next scene, both ladies wear stripes, as Isabella tries harder to butt in between Cathy & Heathcliff. They ignore her, for now.

Cathy - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Love the bodice, hate the hair.

Isabella - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Isabella wears the same style of dress as Cathy, though her gown has a compere front with buttons.

Isabella - Wuthering Heights (1992)

And she wears with a giant hat that hides her from Heathcliff (also, lovely fichu with an embroidered edge).

1775-91 - striped gowns

Striped gowns were definitely popular in the period. Left to right: 1775 gown made in Scotland, V&A Museum; 1785-87 Robe à l’Anglaise, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Self-Portrait with a Harp, 1791, by Rose-Adélaïde Ducreux, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Cathy notices that Isabella is getting the hots for Heathcliff, and she both teases Isabell about it and warns her away.

Cathy - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Same dumb hairstyle, now with a fabulous red jacket.

Cathy - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Close-ups show the red fabric has a small tone-on-tone stripe.

Isabella - Wuthering Heights (1992)

A decent attempt at the back of an 18th-century women’s hairstyle! If the front was taller, this would really work for 1780s.

Isabella - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Can’t see much of her dress in this scene but it seems to be pale gold with a leaf print.

Isabella runs away and marries Heathcliff, regretting it instantly. Cathy dies giving birth to a daughter, who Edgar names Cathy (ugh).

Edgar - - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Edgar, at his wife Cathy’s funeral, & he finally has period-appropriate hair!

Isabella gives birth to a son she names Linton (ugh). Hindley dies, in case anyone gave a shit.

Wuthering Heights (1992)

OK, Nelly gave a shit. She’s wearing black for mourning mourning. Plus the tombstone tells us its now 1784.

Time passes, and we see Cathy Linton around age 16 — she meets Heathcliff and Linton, and no good will come of this.

Cathy Linton - Wuthering Heights (1992)

They have a few hairpins at Thrushcross Grange! And we know time has passed because Cathy L. wears an 1800s-style pelisse & empire-waist gown.

Cathy Linton - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Watch out for Linton, he’s a jerk.

Heathcliff plots to force Isabella to marry Linton as part of his grand revenge scheme.

Cathy Linton - Wuthering Heights (1992)

At first, young Cathy thinks Heathcliff & Linton are just misunderstood. Her dad knows better though. (This is the blue gown she wears under that pink pelisse robe.)

Cathy Linton - Wuthering Heights (1992)

So trusting.

Cathy Linton - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Delicate printed muslin dress in Regency style.

Cathy Linton - Wuthering Heights (1992)

But she’s doomed, no matter how perfect those angled sleeves are.

Edgar dies, and this is the last time young Cathy wears Regency-style gowns.

Cathy Linton - Wuthering Heights (1992)

WTfrock? Is it because all her money is gone with Daddy? Yes, we’ve been shown that Wuthering Heights is backwards and unfashionable and generally fucked up, but this is taking it a bit too far for one character to revert.

Cathy Linton - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Now that she’s just doing the washing & cooking, she’s wearing clothes that are 20-30 years out of date. That’s weird.

Finally Heathcliff dies, and the loose ends of the story are tied up. Young Cathy Linton and Hareton Earnshaw (Hindley and Frances’ son) fall in love and ride off into the moors together.

Cathy Linton - Wuthering Heights (1992)

This looks like the same plaid gown she wears at the start of the movie, in the framing story.

And then we see a frame with in the frame — the film had begun with a voiceover, and now it’s revealed that this was the author, Emily Brontë, telling the whole story to us.

Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights (1992)

Now this works, a 1840s dress for the author.

 

 

What do you think of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights?

One Response

  1. Jose

    The best adaptation ever with beautiful costumes the hair isn’t that nice but nothing is perfect right?

    Reply

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