Wuthering Heights (15.)
Directed by Andrea Arnold.
Starring Kaya Scodelario, James Howson, Solomon Glave, Shannon Beer, Nichola Burley and Steve Evets. 128 mins
After a couple of acclaimed original features, Andrea Arnold has taken a novel approach to tackling her first costume drama/ literary adaptation – she’s taken all the fun out of it. This is a proper bloody Yorkshire version of Heathcliff and Cathy – the wild and windy moors are also rain drenched and mist shrouded; the cast are unknowns or first timers; the animal cruelty and mud splattered earthiness are accentuated and the gothic romance is muted.
It’s beautifully rendered, like Ken Loach meets Terence Malick. The characters are almost embedded in that Yorkshire soil. But it is also a pinched and limited view. Over the century and a half since it was published Emily Bronte’s book has been chipped down into a romantic melodrama but I don’t really see this take being any more “true” than say the Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon’s take.
One of the pleasures of the book is keeping track of it is convoluted structure, the various layers built around the central tales with story being old second and third hand by Lockwood and narrators, and the twisted family tree. Arnold’s version is not unique in abandoning all of this but her version is turned into a simple rush of present tense, a worm’s eye view of events with more hand held shaky cam than a Blair Witch Project.
She’s cut away most of the appeal. This Heathcliff doesn’t say things like “I have no pity! I have no pity! The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush out their entrails!” He says things like “F**** off you c****.” Arnold has tried to transfer all the brutal poetry of the language into brutal visual poetry of landscape but it leaves the characters so small and dull you can’t see why anyone would get worked up about them. Only Scodelario as the adult Cathy has the screen presence to suggest a really powerful character worthy of attention. It’s a dark and unique vision, but it isn’t any kind of Wuthering Heights.