Sometimes an actor can be just too good. As Heathcliff, Tom Hardy bestrode this beguiling adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic (and only) novel so imperiously it was sometimes a wonder that in his wake he wasn’t followed by a troop of Panzers.And this became a problem as such was the potency of the portrayal that it coerced the viewer into witnessing everything from his perspective. His heartless cruelty towards his wife Isabella, first seducing then commanding her not to look at him as they ‘made love’ so that he could glean some sort of petty vengeance on her brother Edgar who was married to his beloved Cathy. As she wept in what was pretty close to a rape, instead of the gushing sympathy that should have flooded the senses, there was an inkling of joy in Heathcliff’s retribution, as you pictured the face of the meek Edgar (Andrew Lincoln) curdling with fury at his sister’s degradation.Throughout the two-episodes, Hardy invested in Heathcliff such glowering menace, and yet at the drop of a hat (and there were plenty of hats to drop, in particular those that keep the wearer safe from the harshest tendrils of the bitter Yorkshire Moors) could segue seamlessly into adoration for Cathy. And that’s what made it so powerful; while his callous humiliation of his foster brother Hindley, Edgar and Isabella were obnoxious vulgarities, they endeared him because they were vents of frustration as his love for Cathy was thwarted at every turn.Hardy’s Heathcliff didn’t achieve all his ends through casual brutality. After he was rude to the visiting Edgar, he was flogged sadistically by Hindley, allowing himself to be brutalised to evince to Cathy the vindictive barbarism of her brother in the hope that it would draw her closer to him.The effect was that the supporting cast became little satellites orbiting Heathcliff. Charlotte Riley oscillated valiantly between succumbing to Heathcliff’s earthy charms, while being torn by the inhibitive etiquette of the upper classes, while Burn Gorman captured the tremulous insecurity of Hindley as he lashed out his annoyance at the way Heathcliff had infiltrated his family’s austere eminence with his coarse mannerisms.Andrew Lincoln as Edgar was assembled to act as Heathcliff’s mortal adversary, and despite his relegation to such a blind cipher, he did elicit pathos in his efforts to keep hold of the vacillating Cathy. This theme was most keenly explored as Heathcliff overpowered Edgar and threatened him with a fire stoker, Cathy screamed for him to stop. Heathcliff willingly acceded to her demand to show that she was the only one who could control him – therefore paradoxically increasing his hold over her – before handing her the stoker, not out of any sense of surrender, but subtly implying that she should finish off her pathetic husband herself.
But the stranglehold of Heathcliff on the narrative was near omnipotent. An older Heathcliff was lured into a bedroom in the stately home he came to as a child by Cathy’s ghost, where he subsequently blew out his brains. Nelly (Sarah Lancashire), his son and Cathy’s daughter rushed to his aid. They did so not so much out of alarm at his imminent demise but also for fear that they would fade out and cease to exist with his passing. And this might explain why the story injudiciously chopped the chapters from the novel following Heathcliff’s death, which were as much part of the tale as the desolate moors that were as much of a home to the characters as the stately homes.