Wuthering Heights... the title demands a sigh and conjures up women fainting and swooning on mountain tops. Emily Bronte wrote the book with the protagonist of Heathcliff modeled on her brother, Branwell, which would suggest she had incestuous tendencies. It's difficult to blame the girl, who lost her mother as a toddler, dreamed of imaginary kingdoms and spent a bit too much time with her "creative" siblings before taking a dirt nap at age 30.
Emily Bronte's Gothic classic may not have been an instant success like her sister's novel Jane Eyre, but is now regarded as just as important in English literature. The novel has been adapted to film several times, with a string of TV movies in the wake of the 1992 film starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche. Twenty years on, filmmakers must have thought there was a niche for yet another adaptation, after all... they did one for Jane Eyre.
They were right and instead of doing a straight rinse-and-repeat went ahead and created an anti-period piece. This isn't to say they're against ovulation, but that Fish Tank and Red Road director, Andrea Arnold wanted to change the rules... first by casting James Howson as Heathcliff.
Shaky handheld cameras, on-location shooting, unconventional behind-the-head shots, natural environment "Mallick" shots and a raw, natural beauty pervade this anti-period romance. The reality of their ordinary rural lives is splayed open without dressing things up or making excuses. It's probably a bit too much for those expecting a film nicely tied up in a bow, which explains the divided opinion on this unconventional adaptation.
Dirt, brutality, violence and a raw unkempt fuzziness to the story give this drama a primal edge. The dialogue is kept to a minimum with the camera doing most of the storytelling. Arnold maintains this for a sense of realism, trading the flowery language for strong Yorkshire accents and harnessing the unromantic quality of life in those days. It's a powerful and refreshing take on a genre that has become dominated by wardrobe changes and careless whispers.
Breaking the mold is a brave move, but Arnold is a visionary director whose dark, elemental version of Wuthering Heights will astound viewers. This is a director's film. The cast of up-and-coming actors including Solomon Glave, Kaya Scodelario and Shannon Beer do enough to keep you invested in the story, but the focus is on atmosphere, mood and grit and not on performance or dialogue. Just like a portrait, the characters and animals speak more with their mouths shut than open.
The all-new Wuthering Heights is a bold, ambitious drama comparable with Bright Star and Jane Eyre. The visuals are striking and the style is refreshing, but this doomed romance isn't a crowd-pleaser, it's an experience... one that may offend sensitive viewers and dash the hopes of many fair maidens. The narrative is a little patchy at times, forcing the audience to fill in the gaps and the cast have low self-esteem in the way that they know they're "cattle", as Hitchcock would put it.
Wuthering Heights is experimental at times with moments of breathtaking brilliance and other moments that loosen the grip on the viewer. It's the kind of dark horse that will take about twenty minutes to get into the saddle. Once you're there it's a restless, jarring, spellbinding and untamed experience... some will love it and others will detest it.
The bottom line: Poetry