Wuthering Heights

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2012, 12:00am


Starring: Solomon Grave, Shannon Beer, James Howson, Kaya Scodelario
Director: Andrea Arnold Category: IIB

Emily Bronte devotees, look away now: Andrea Arnold's adaptation of Wuthering Heights looks nothing like the epic drama of the novel and the film and television adaptations which came in its wake in the late 20th century.

By focusing mostly on the teenage years of its ill-fated lovers, Arnold strips the original of its sweeping time span; by eschewing widescreen splendour (the film was shot on a 4:3 ratio) and employing handheld camerawork the film subverts the notion of space in the book. But this is what makes Arnold's film refreshing and exciting: her Wuthering Heights makes a good case of why literary classics warrant remakes - and how they should be made.

The film opens in the cramped confines of a small house, where the adult version of the film's protagonist, Heathcliff, writhes and bawls, possibly as he mourns the past. The agony is presented up close in a tightly-edited sequence: there is a striking similarity with scenes in Arnold's previous two features, Red Road and Fish Tank, in which characters exorcise their anguish in barren flats in tenement blocks.

Heathcliff's raw emotions are a harbinger of the fury to follow as the narrative proper begins. Young Heathcliff (Solomon Glave, above), an orphan on the streets of Liverpool, is inducted into the Earnshaw family, and develops a relationship with the clan's youngest child, Catherine (Shannon Beer).

As their romance blossoms, Heathcliff's confrontational relationship with Catherine's elder brother, the violent Hindley (Lee Shaw), intensifies. On the death of their father, Hindley orders Heathcliff to live and work as a servant. Meanwhile, Catherine is sent to board with the wealthier Lintons - an experience which alters her feelings towards Heathcliff.

Playing up the depiction of human cruelty in Bront?'s novel, Arnold strips the story bare of pompous romanticism. Lovelorn glances are rare, and the ones which appear are offset by displays of recklessness, selfishness or physical confrontation. The infrequent moments of tenderness take place in the harshest of climates and landscapes, such as when Heathcliff and Catherine stare from a barren hilltop into the grey, foggy moors or when they get physically intimate while wrestling in mud.

The severity lightens as the story shifts forward to Heathcliff and Catherine (Kaya Scodelario) as estranged adults. But the glow only belies the coming catastrophe - and hints of the brutality of the book's second act, which Arnold leaves out as the film draws to a close.

What's important here is how human passion withstands stark natural and social circumstances. Unforgiving and intense, Arnold's film scales cinematic heights with its depiction of earthy lives.

Wuthering Heights opens today