DVD: Wuthering Heights | Film reviews, news & interviews
DVD: Wuthering Heights
Socialist realism meets 19th-century Romanticism in Andrea Arnold's raw adaptation
Andrea Arnold’s starkly naturalistic reboot of Emily Brontë’s masterpiece of 1847 isn’t the first costume drama of the last 20 years to scorn the heritage-culture approach. In 1995, Roger Michell’s Persuasion, one of the best but least fêted of the Jane Austen adaptations, put handheld camerawork, natural lighting and grainy images in the service of the downwardly mobile Elliot clan’s shabby gentility, making poor Anne’s Cinderella plight all the more affecting.
Evocatively photographed by Robert Ryan, Wuthering Heights goes much further in its invoking of pathetic fallacy. There are times when the rainy, wind-whipped Yorkshire moors, with their mists and murks and teeming wildlife, are as animalistic a psychological backdrop for the adolescent love of Heathcliff (Solomon Glave) and Cathy Earnshaw (Shannon Beer) as the storm-blasted heath was for King Lear's madness. We see insects, hawks, horses, a hooked bleeding pheasant, a pet spaniel hung on a fence to die. In one of the film’s great scenes, the feral Heathcliff presses down on Cathy in a patch of mud, the dirt binding them together.
In the novel, Heathcliff is “a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect” and “a little Lascar [Indian], or Spanish or American castaway”, so Arnold’s casting of black actors – Glave and James Howson, who plays the self-made adult Heathcliff – is legitimate. The scourge marks on his back indicate he was a slave. Thus, racism is added to the class hatred of the elitist Hindleys, whose milquetoast scion Edgar marries Cathy. Arnold doesn’t glorify the peasants, however – unlike his kindly dad, Hindley Earnshaw is a vicious, rutting cur.
Partially because Howson is stiff and, as the grown Cathy, Kaya Scodelario (pictured above) is ethereal compared with the earthbound Beer, the movie is less passionate in its second half than in its first. But Arnold sustains her poetic blend of 19th-century Romanticism and the social-realist style that made her Red Road and Fish Tank such authentic feminist revenge dramas. Although she abjures the electrifying Gothic atmospherics of Brontë's book (and almost dispenses with dialogue), one is still inclined to think that, for this Cathy and Heathcliff, too, there will be “unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth”.
Watch the trailer to Wuthering Heights
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