19 November 2011
Andrea Arnold’s take on Emily Brontë’s beloved novel of the same name is an assured and mesmerising piece of cinema. It often hits hard and low, hell-bent to knock you off your comfort zone. Relying solely on ambient sounds and intrusive camerawork, it leaves the viewer panting for breath. It has its flaws, for sure (and they are plenty), but the positives almost always overcome its shortcomings.
Doing away with the framing flashback sequences, Arnold and co-screenwriter Olivia Hetreed present us the naked and tumultuous love story of Catherine Earnshaw and her step-brother / family slave Heathcliff. Quite why Arnold opted for a black actor instead of the novel’s Roma character is never clear. The racial issues are perhaps more apparent when the situation is more, for want of a better phrase, black and white, but it is a curious choice nonetheless. And concentrating mostyly on the chilhood years is also another deviation from the novel. These scenes become the heart of the story instead of its foundation.
Although much has been said about the older actors’ lack of resemblance to their younger selves (or vice versa), as a cinematic tool it doesn’t really hurt the film’s believability. In fact, this rather jarring element only adds to the unease.
Arnold’s film is the story as it was meant to be. This is what it must have felt like reading it when it was first published. As film and television viewers, we are accustomed to the period piece treatments. Wuthering Heights is nothing like it. In fact it makes this year’s other fantastic adaptation Jane Eyre look very conventional.