By Silvia Felce
Here’s yet another adaptation of Emily Brontë’s classic novel, although the fact that is directed by Andrea Arnold of Fish Tank (2009) makes it all exciting again. Indeed, she brings her personal aesthetic and vision to the story and although it may not be overall perfect, the final result it is still a striking film.
Instead of concentrating of shots of laces and pretty dresses, Arnold’s Wuthering Heights is a dirty and a bloody affair, which, especially in the first part of the film, goes straight back to the soul of the book. Brontë’s novel is very dark, full of anger and passion and Arnold stays close to this, giving a lot of space to the landscape and wildlife around while developing the strange siblings/lovers bond between the young Cathy (Shannon Beer) and Heathcliff (Solomon Glave). A lot of the film is shot on handheld and with natural lights, which adds to the wildness and perfectly serves the story.
Much it has been said already about Arnold been the first one to cast a black actor for the role of Heathcliff, who in the original novel is described as a “dark-skinned gipsy” (previous actors to play Heathcliff include Laurence Olivier, Timothy Dalton and Ralph Fiennes). In this version he is a black boy found in the street of Liverpool and brought to live with Cathy’s family.
Class issues are replaced by race issues with Heathcliff referred to as a “nigger” but this choice of casting is much closer to the novel and would have certainly made Brontë happy. It is a shame that for so much attention paid to the original book, sometimes the film misses a bit with its dialogue which seems too modern for that period. At one point, Heathcliff swears at the Linton family like it was a scene from Fish Tank instead of Wuthering Heights.
As the two protagonists grow older, the film begins to lack the passion it had in its first part. The older Cathy (Kaya Scodelario) and Heathcliff (James Howson) are of a shadow of their younger version and it is very difficult to see the passion, so well portrayed at the beginning, which eventually drives them crazy and destroys them. The last moments of the film feel a little flat and ultimately it lacks of the powerful ending it deserves.
Arnold’s Wuthering Heights is a very interesting and clever adaptation, even if not entirely satisfying.