Andrea Arnold’s atmospheric adaptation of Emily Brönte’s Wuthering Heights is a thought-provoking experiment. The film is far more earthy than a typical costume drama, which will either please or put off viewers depending on their inclinations.
The Earnshaw family are well off, living in Yorkshire. One day, Mr Earnshaw brings home Heathcliff, a young boy he finds wondering alone, and insists he is welcomed into the family. As Heathcliff adjusts into his new home, he develops a strong bond with Kathy, the youngest daughter of the Earnshaw family…
Arnold’s version of Wuthering Heights is more brutal than most adaptions of Brönte’s classic. The first half of the film is stronger than the second. It is more emotive; there is a real tragedy to Heathcliff. It is difficult not to empathise with the outsider character, and to feel strongly about his cruel treatment.
Dialogue in the film can be sparse, with plenty of prolonged shots of the landscape and close-ups of the protagonists. These shots work well to generate atmosphere. There is a coldness to the entire film, emphasised by the harsh environment and the brutality of nature. Furthermore, there is a preoccupation with animals and their treatment, perhaps likening the treatment of creatures to the treatment of certain characters.
Shannon Beer and Solomon Glave are great as the young Kathy and Heathcliff. Their burgeoning friendship is very believable. Kaya Scodelario and James Howson fair less well as their adult counterparts; at times their inexperience shines through. Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is instrumental in setting the tone.
Wuthering Heights plunges its audience into distinctive but uncomfortable world. An interesting adaptation of well-known material.
Wuthering Heights was screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011. It is released on 11th November 2011.