I’m a big Andrea Arnold fan, so went in to the cinema having already decided I was going to like Wuthering Heights. However, even my biased standpoint could not convince me that the film was a great achievement.
Although Brontë’s novel was followed meticulously, this was an altogether different Wuthering Heights as we know it. For those unaware, the story is that of a doomed love affair between homeless gypsy boy Heathcliff, and rich young Cathy Earnshaw, whose family adopts him and then forces him to become a servant. The trials of their love are mirrored in the wild Yorkshire moors after which the book is titled.
A little background to put things into context: Arnold’s previous films have included Wasp (which won the Oscar for best short in ’05), Red Road (which won 2 Baftas and the Jury Prize at Cannes ’06) and Fish Tank which won 2 Baftas and the Jury Prize at Cannes ’09). These films could be characterised as British ‘miserablist’ cinema, capitalizing on council estate deprivation, or, more favourably, working-class realism.
Her style has been cited as coming from the British social-realist tradition, although, as Nick James (editor of Sight and Sound magazine) told the New York Times “it’s a more semi-poetic strain arguably than that explored by Loach, who is nonetheless the godfather of Arnold’s generation of British filmmakers.”
Therefore, Arnold’s style, which mixes uncluttered scenes, sparse dialogue and a liking for handheld camera is somewhat incongruous to the period drama.
The film gave me a real sense of time and place. The house was bare and everything was dirty, the moors were wild and the weather, fierce. Watching it made me feel cold and vulnerable. I should’ve counted the scenes where characters ran in hard rain (there were a lot) because each time they did, it was an emotional tool, but also a sensual one, something Arnold is brilliant at. Senses were important: the heat of a glowing fire, cold dark nights, howling wind, Cathy’s touch, how the camera buried itself into her hair or lingered over handfuls of mud.
Building their eternal love, there was no flirting or courting or dinner dates. In fact, they barely spoke to each other. The relationship was built on tension, which became a kind of obsession.
The use of the horses was also brilliant as a symbol of vulnerability, and made me remember the horse used in Fish Tank which Katy Jarvis tries to set free.
Although the younger versions of Cathy and Healthcliff, Shannon Beer and Solomon Glave, were played well, I disliked the older versions of the couple, who we are introduced to almost three-quarters of the way in, Kaya Scodelario and James Howson. Ignoring the fact that there is only 3 years age difference between Shannon and Kaya, I didn’t see the need to switch actors at this point in the film and found it disruptive and damaging to the emotional strand of the film. Kaya and James displayed almost no chemistry and sounded scripted and awkward.
I also found the script often quite crass and unfitting to the scene. For example, Healthcliff returns to the manor after years away and finds his brother Hindley looking, well, a bit zombified. Hindley looks up, says ‘What the f**k!’ and then vomits over a wall next to him. Then Healthcliff hangs a very sweet looking dog onto a fence letting its legs swing about, for apparently no reason.
In conclusion, if Arnold had left out Kaya and Howson and removed colloquialisms, I would’ve noticed how fantastic her filmmaking really is, instead of thinking about how overly long the film felt, at 130 minutes. It is worth mentioning, the film has already received a nomination for the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
In cinemas November 11.