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
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
The Scottish play starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard marries spectacle to mumblecore
Pacino triumphs, despite questionable attempts to channel Neil Diamond
Challenging French film about engagement, or lack of it, in unsettling ocean environment
Matt Damon gives a masterclass in survival in Ridley Scott's space adventure
The late Soviet and Russian master Alexei German finds diamonds in the muck
Diverse films gave a glimpse beyond the tourist veneer of Brazil's cultural capital
Submarine star Craig Roberts' coming-of-age debut feature is flawed but bracingly inventive
Robert Pattinson and Dane DeHaan star in an insightful biopic of James Dean
theartsdesk casts ahead to an LFF programme bursting with possibilities
Nanni Moretti gets painfully personal with this impeccably judged family drama
Immaculate restoration of 1967 Slovak film, complete with remarkable score
Antonioni's 1962 classic of alienation loses none of its power