Director Arnold’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ runs Bronte’s classic through dark lens
Arnold’s unconventional adaptation gives ‘Wuthering Heights’ teeth
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 08:10
After its premiere at the Venice Film Festival last year, director Andrea Arnold’s remake of “Wuthering Heights” has finally hit theaters around Boston.
Numerous directors have attempted to transfer Emily Bronte’s sole novel to the big screen. The legendary Heathcliff has been played more than a dozen times by such acting luminaries as Laurence Olivier (1939) and Ralph Fiennes (1992).
Screenwriters have frequently chosen to approach the unwieldy text by addressing only the first half of the novel, which centers on the tormented relationship between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. While Arnold adheres to this precedent, her adaptation delves more deeply into Heathcliff’s internal struggles than past adaptations have.
Solomon Glave plays young Heathcliff, an orphan boy of unidentified ancestry who is taken in by the Earnshaw family of Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff quickly forms a bond with the only daughter in the family, Catherine Earnshaw (Shannon Beer).
The film opens with a bleak and disquieting scene, with the camera shakily gazing at a child’s drawing etched into a wall. We see an older Heathcliff (James Howson), standing in a bare room that will later be identified as Catherine and his bedroom. Heathcliff appears tortured as he propels himself, again and again, into the bedroom wall, each time crashing to the ground, whimpering in pain. This unconventional opening scene effectively creates a tone that remains present through the remainder of the film.
Arnold devotes much of the screen time to wide shots of the English moors and close−ups of natural wonders — moths flitting on a windowpane or drops of dew bedecking blades of lush Yorkshire grass. Robbie Ryan’s evocative cinematography alone is worth the price of admission.
Catherine and Heathcliff, inseparable as children, need each other to survive in these harsh and vast climes. Heathcliff abandons his duties on the farm to explore the foggy moors with Catherine. While other screen adaptations of the novel have played up the burgeoning love between the two quasi−siblings, Arnold takes another tack. She sacrifices objectivity by foregrounding Heathcliff’s perspective, literally and figuratively. When he races over the moors, for instance, we see the view through Heathcliff’s blurred eyes.
Halfway through the film, Heathcliff angrily departs Wuthering Heights, following what he defines as a betrayal by Catherine. Arnold quickly cuts to a mature, well−dressed Heathcliff walking through the fog towards the camera. The transition from the misunderstood and mistreated younger Heathcliff to a wealthy and now vengeful character is seamless as he seeks retribution from those whom he perceives to have slighted him in the past.
Kaya Scodelario convincingly plays the adult Catherine as a woman worn down by her conflicting emotions. However, Arnold forges a greater connection between Howson’s Heathcliff and the viewer, thanks in large part to a dynamic performance by Howson, who exhibits both Heathcliff’s crippling desire and his proclivity for violence.
Adding to the film’s original take on the classic text is Arnold’s choice to forego a musical score, which forces the audience to acknowledge the solitude that comes with living in the largely silent landscape of Wuthering Heights. That silence is broken only in the very last scene, when a haunting original track by Mumford & Sons entitled “The Enemy” carries the audience from the film’s last moments to the end credits.
While the spare and harsh story that Arnold has created is not for every moviegoer, one doesn’t need to know the details of Bronte’s famous novel to enjoy its riches through Arnold’s reading. “Wuthering Heights” is a profound exploration of one man’s inner conflict and the way in which his struggle is further complicated by an incapacitating love for one woman.