Wuthering Heights

An audacious but ultimately inert attempt to revitalise Emily Brontë’s much-adapted 1847 Gothic novel Wuthering Heights for a new generation, Andrea Arnold’s gritty film shares strands of DNA with Cary Fukunaga’s recent Jane Eyre in framing a historical fiction in an ultra-realistic physical and emotional landscape.

Forget notions of Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon striding across a sound-stage moor. This is not your grandfather’s Wuthering Heights. Opening with images of a rain-soaked, wind-swept Yorkshire, Arnold takes us inside the drab eponymous farmhouse where young teenager Cathy Earnshaw (played first by newcomer Shannon Beer and later by Kaya Scodelario) lives with her stern father (Paul Hinton) and cruel older brother Hindley (Lee Shaw). One night, the father returns from town with a stranger, a young black escaped slave who he takes into the house as an act of charity. Although her first reaction is to spit on the bedraggled young man, Cathy and Heathcliff (Solomon Glave, and later, newcomer James Howson) soon become friends. 

She teaches him to speak English, sitting patiently with him as he struggles to speak or wandering the muddy hills, watching the birds. Heathcliff is treated as a member of the family, but when Mr Earnshaw dies and Hindley inherits the farm, the youngster is reduced to the level of a servant and sent to live in an outhouse, where a hatred for the people who once praised themselves for their good work festers. Heathcliff continues to feel close to Cathy, a free-spirited, bright girl, even when she is encouraged to spend time with their wealthy neighbours the Lintons, forming a bond with their eldest son that might result in a beneficial marriage. Years later, the connection that formed between the young teenagers will return to damage both of them in tragic ways.

Working from a script by Olivia Hetreed (who previously adapted Tracy Chevalier's Girl With A Pearl Earring), Arnold deserves respect for radically reinterpreting a classic novel, coming at the familiar story from a new perspective of gender, race and class division. Taking her lead from Brontë’s description of Heathcliff as “a dark-skinned gypsy”, the director has, for the first time, cast a black actor as the anti-hero, a novel touch that quickly becomes irrelevant; Glave and later, Howson, give performances that are far deeper than the colour of their skin. But the same cannot be said for the rest of the cast who, typically for Arnold, are made up of a combination of professional and non-professional actors. 

The film’s greatest weakness lies in the fact that the story does not survive the mid-way switch between younger and older characters, the later players being unable to match the emotional honesty of the first half, despite the story’s intricate complications being laid out in an unerringly straight line. There is little dialogue, with the characters speaking in an odd blend of archaic and modern language, a distracting touch that sits uneasily with the director’s carefully crafted naturalism and cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s tactile and immediate images. Nimbly photographed in a free-form hand-held style, interspersed with tightly framed images of decomposing nature, dead animals and rotting fruit, Wuthering Heights is a chilly, curiously lifeless film; over-considered, over-extended and ultimately, underwhelming.


Aripa said...

it's like you read my mind . I share your opinion of this film.

Aripa said...

It's like you read my mind. I share your opinion about this film.
Completely fractured and not well assembled in every direction, although it has good elements.