Wuthering Heights

WRITTEN BY: Andrea Arnold, Olivia Hetreed
DIRECTED BY: Andrea Arnold
STARRING: Solomon Glave, Shannon Beer, James Howson, Kaya Scodelario
RATING: 1.5 stars

Wuthering Heights is a classic piece of English literature. Since Emily Bronte published the novel in 1847, people around the world have been falling in love with the book. There have already been countless films based on the book but none that I have seen have been able to capture the true complexity of the love, passion, obsession, brutality and supernatural themes of the novel. In this latest offering from director/co-writer Andrea Arnold we finally see the violent essence of the novel depicted well, but it fails to deliver the full story. In fact, it completely ignores the second generation in the saga. Fans of the novel, like me, will have many criticisms of the film, but I think even those who have not read Bronte's masterpiece will have problems with the painfully slow pace and lack of dialogue.

Wuthering Heights is set in 18th century England and tells the story of a farmer named Mr Earnshaw (Paul Hilton) who finds a homeless boy on the streets of Liverpool and takes him in to be part of his family at Wuthering Heights in the Yorkshire moors. He names the boy Heathcliff (Solomon Glave, James Howson). But Mr Earnshaw's son Hindley (Lee Shaw) is jealous of Heathcliff and treats him like a slave rather than a brother. Meanwhile, Mr Earnshaw's daughter Catherine (Shannon Beer, Kaya Scodelario) forms a strong bond with Heathcliff and they become inseparable. Hindley is sent away to study but when Mr Earnshaw died years later, Hindley returns with his new bride and makes Heathcliff a servant. After a misunderstanding, Heathcliff believes that Catherine has betrayed him so he runs away only to return three years later with his own fortune. But Catherine has married someone else and Heathcliff is more bitter than ever about his ill-treatment by Hindley and others. He seeks revenge that threatens to destroy everyone around him, including Catherine and himself.

The first half of the film is boring. Arnold spends so much time filming picturesque scenes that the plot itself is left suspended. I think Arnold tried too hard to be artistic in her film-making. Stylistic elements in a film should add to the overall look and enjoyment of the film and should wash over an audience, not be showy and over the top to the point that audiences are noticing the director's choices. Arnold has filmed it in a very tight 4x3 aspect ratio, which is obviously a stylistic choice, but not a good one. Everything is also tightly framed and the hand-held camera work makes it difficult to see what is actually happening. I'm not sure why we needed to see so many random cutaways of birds, insects, trees and meadows. One stylistic element I did appreciate however was the use of sound. There is very little music in the film, but there are other sounds including the howling wind, rain plummeting and mud being squashed under shoes. My only problem with this is that there are many drawn out scenes in which the actors barely speak but instead are just shown walking around and looking longingly at each other. Where was Bronte's wit?

As for the acting itself, Arnold has used a lot of first-time actors. While they were reasonably good, they weren't powerful. It was however, a brave choice to make Heathcliff black. The novel never fully explains what Heathcliff's ethnicity is - he could be black, Indian or just a dark-skinned European. It's sure to attract further debate among fans.

On The Road has been criticised for capturing the plot but not the essence of its novel. Arnold has done the opposite with Wuthering Heights. I think it was a mistake, but perhaps others will disagree. Have you seen the film? Did it do the novel justice?