Based on Emily Bronte’s 1847 novel of the same name, Brit director Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank) has breathed new life into a well-worn classic, giving it such a dramatic facelift that it’s almost unrecognisable from the original
Based on Emily
Bronte’s 1847 novel of the same name, Brit director Andrea Arnold (Red Road,
Fish Tank) has breathed new life into a well-worn classic, giving it such a dramatic
facelift that it’s almost unrecognisable from the original – from the
handheld camera scenes to the fact that she’s made Heathcliff a black boy with a
deliciously foul mouth .
It is pleasingly full of bonnets and corsets and lush
panoramas of the great English countryside, but this is where the similarities
between Arnold’s unique adaptation and your average ‘costume drama’ abruptly end.
Somehow, Arnold has been able to inject it with a very modern kind of grit,
roughed it up and turned it on its head just enough to make us sit up and
reassess the story all over again.
Wuthering Heights, similar to the 1939 screen adaptation
starring Laurence Olivier in that it
doesn’t choose to deal with the latter section of the novel – focusing instead
on the feverish, wrecking-everything-in-its-path love affair between the fabled
Heathcliff and Cathy – first joins the feisty pair as kids.
In Arnold’s take on things, Heathcliff is a black child,
branded forever a slave on his back, rather than the swarthy, gypsy-skinned boy
described in Bronte’s book. He and his new friend are played, incredible
naturals in front of the camera may it be added, by Solomon Glave and Shannon
Beer, both in their debut roles. As they progress towards adulthood and the relationship takes
on a darker hue, they are portrayed by James
Howson (in his on-screen debut) and Kaya
Scodelario, the young Skins star at her sexy, electrifying best.
Heathcliff is taken under the wing of the Earnshaw family in
Yorkshire and raised on their family as one of their own and a sibling to Cathy
and elder brother Hindley (who is distinctly less pleased about the turn of
events), striking up a special bond with Cathy. Here, the two are seen
cavorting across the moors together (cue the Kate Bush song in your head),
play-fighting in the dirt and greedily pushing food into each other’s mouths.
It’s all very visual and visceral– dialogue is at a minimum and there’s no
soundtrack to accompany their frolicking.
Anyone that’s familiar with the story knows the path of true
love, in Bronte’s novel, has never been so fraught, and Cathy marries someone
else – a man with prospects, before Heathcliff, having become man of some
standing himself, returns to rock the boat. The scene in which he finally finds
his old love is spellbinding.
But the stars aren’t Cathy or Heathcliff, the star of the
show here is the land, which is cradled lovingly by the camera under Arnold’s
direction, getting down and dirty until we can see the little insects crawling
through it. Brutal, stripped back and strangely sparce, this film’s power has
ultimately little to do with its nineteenth century setting.