Made for the BBC and shown in the US on PBS, THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL was heralded as a vindication of the work of Anne Bronte, who remains less known than her sisters Charlotte and Emily. This examination of a woman freeing herself from an abusive marriage benefits from a more modern
slant on the issue of battered women. But too much of what is good about Bronte's complicatedly structured Gothic novel (which was savaged by critics in 1848) is lost in this over-praised, monotonously fussy adaptation.
Distraught Helen Graham Huntingdon (Tara Fitzgerald) flees her marriage to drunken Arthur Huntingdon (Rupert Graves), who treats her like chattel. With her son Arthur (Jackson Leach), Helen moves into Wildfell Hall, the house she has secretly leased from her brother, Mr. Lawrence (James Purefoy).
Mistrusted by the local people as an outsider and disparaged because she paints watercolors for a living, Helen's only ally is farmer Gilbert Markham (Toby Stephens), who deflects criticism of her while falling in love with this purposefully aloof stranger.
Misled by gossip, Gilbert becomes convinced that Helen is having a clandestine affair with Lawrence (she has kept their true relationship a secret). After Gilbert jealously beats Lawrence, Helen gives him her journal to explain herself. In flashback, we see Helen's tortured marriage to wastrel
Huntingdon. Only when her spouse tries to make a "man" of their overprotected son does Helen take action, eventually fleeing.
When Helen learns that Huntingdon's dissolute lifestyle has made him ill, she dutifully returns to nurse him. His death frees her from social disdain, and she resettles at Wildfell Hall, accepting a marriage proposal from the honorable Gilbert.
Mike Barker, the neophyte director of THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL, stated that he wanted to avoid the cloistered emotion of a Merchant-Ivory film. But perhaps if he had imitated his betters he might have done more than superficial justice to this story. Despite the visual sweep Barker forges for
his production, a certain cinematic stasis sets in due to an over-reliance on dialogue. Instead, Barker's model seems to be Jane Campion, as the film has an eerily cool, nightmarish quality.
Blame for this dreary enterprise belongs to the scriptwriters, who blur Bronte's work to fixate on their own feminist outrage. Like the American TV series "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," they ludicrously transfer contemporary social issues into another epoch. Equally clumsy is the way the story
shuttles between past and present until the audience gets caught in a traffic jam of crosscutting. And dour Tara Fitzgerald, who plays Helen only in the extremes of girlish ingenuousness and brittle resentment, is unable to capture the viewer's interest. (Violence, profanity, sexual situations,substance abuse, adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1996
- Rating: NR
- Review: Made for the BBC and shown in the US on PBS, THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL was heralded as a vindication of the work of Anne Bronte, who remains less known than her sisters Charlotte and Emily. This examination of a woman freeing herself from an abusive marr… (more)