Adaptation of the Emily Brontë classic by filmmaker Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank), a dark tale of passionate and thwarted love, sibling rivalry and revenge wreaked. Now playing nationwide.
It’s muddy, bloody and bleak. But Catherine and Heathcliff fans will know this already. Emily Bronte’s classic novel has to be one of the most depressing stories ever told, and Andrea Arnold’s take on it zeroes in on the despair with such fierceness, you can practically feel the dirt squelching through your toes. Wuthering Heights has been retold on film several times but Arnold’s must take the prize for being the most raw and real. Foregoing the second half of the novel, hers is more concerned with emotion than strict adherence to plot.
Forget the usual flouncy trappings of period drama. This is so stripped back it’s virtually naked. That means only sparse use of dialogue, very little soundtrack to speak of and handheld camera work showing the desolate world of the weather-beaten moors through Heathcliff’s eyes. There’s a certain beauty that comes with this kind of film-making in that it’s very much about the here and now, but even the most ardent fans may find the going tough as the bleakness takes over.
The central gypsy character – played here by black actors Solomon Glave and James Howson as the younger and older Heathcliff respectively – was never much of a blabbermouth, but here he’s bordering on mute. That’s not to say either actor lacks presence. Their uncanny resemblance is a triumph of casting. Not so the different versions of Catherine who, while both natural and talented actresses, barely pass as the same person.
The Yorkshire setting is the most consistent character, all brooding blue landscapes and rain-soaked earth. Arnold uses the elements, rather than the script, to describe the prevailing mood, and allows plenty of space to ponder Heathcliff’s predicament, whether it’s allowing the wind to whistle through the valleys or having the camera alight upon a half-rotten piece of fruit to foreshadow his forbidden pursuit of married Catherine.
It’s stylish, considered stuff. But ultimately your enjoyment of the film will depend on your appreciation of the troubling and brutal nature of the source material. This is one tragic tale indeed.