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
Share this article
We at The Arts Desk hope that you have been enjoying our coverage of the arts. If you like what you’re reading, do please consider making a donation. A contribution from you will help us to continue providing the high-quality arts writing that won us the Best Specialist Journalism Website award at the 2012 Online Media Awards. To make a one-off contribution click Donate or to set up a regular standing order click Subscribe.
With thanks and best wishes from all at The Arts Desk
Latest in today
The brooding private detective is back
The welcome return of the legacy of photographer Erwin Blumenfeld
The mother of all vérité docs
Strauss's opera reluctantly enters the Battle of Britain courtesy of a...
Although only 7,500 Jews live in Poland, a space dedicated to their history...
Easy listening and continental European intellectualism combine on the earl...
New play about tragic Welsh diva Dorothy Squires misses the real story
Why are some Americans so seduced by the land of Downton? A native explores
The German artist plays with notions of the Romantic sublime
Stylistic mash-ups of album number six result in perfect pop