Sunday, 13 November 2011

Wuthering Heights

Any visitors to the blog will remember I reviewed - and surprisingly enjoyed - the latest adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's timeless gothic masterpiece, Jane Eyre. It's perhaps unusual however within two months to see a new big screen version of her sister, Emily Bronte's own masterpiece, Wuthering Heights arrive in arthouse cinemas around the nation also. Does it match the dark, brooding, horrific spin on the costume drama genre Jane Eyre presented? No, it doesn't. Fish Tank director Andrea Arnold instead decides takes the rulebook for period costume dramas and tears it up and throws it out the window, to quite striking results...

The whole narrative of the film is told from the perspective of the troubled boy of few words known as Heathcliff. It charts his arrival to the Earnshaw family who reluctantly raise them as their own, in their good Christian household, all the while young Heathcliff strikes up a close relationship with the youngest daughter of the family, Catherine. Any fans of the novel will know this budding love story is ultimately doomed to fail in the harshest of circumstances.

Wuthering Heights managed to do something quite remarkable. It managed to make this genre feel fresh and interesting. Arnold's presentation, from the first person perspectives, the old school 4.3 camera perspective, the abstract symbolic imagery in between scenes, the lack of any notable score preferring to rely on the natural sounds of the harsh English countryside, the almost music video-esque dreamy camera work was so unique and intoxicating it was truly hard to resist. Even if it's not always the most widely accessible adaptation seen on the big screen.

For both leading roles of Catherine and Heathcliff, the four actors involved were tremendous. Though Arnold should be credited for creating a screenplay which let the intimate, yet powerful, imagery carry the film as oppose to the dialogue which was kept to the absolute minimum - especially for James Howson and Solomon Glave's excellent portrayal of Heathcliff. Having not read the book I'd be interested to know if the perception of Catherine is a bit more glorified in the source material. In the film she was just as manipulative, cunning and unforgiving as the tortured Heathcliff, and especially in the scenes involving Kaya Scodelario (of Skins fame). The chemistry and relationships shown were for the large part quite moving, but their love was never entirely justified through these eyes.

For large portions the love story played second fiddle to some of the other issues the film tried to get across. This wasn't just a timeless love story of two extremely flawed human beings, but also an examination of social class, racial antagonism and religious apathy. It was sometimes cold, sometimes brutally harsh but it was hard to tear your eyes away from it at times. Almost how one would imagine a costume drama would feel if Lars Von Trier decided to make one - especially in the questionable treatment of the animal kingdom in certain scenes.

Nevertheless the film did suffered from a prolonged running time which could have easily been 20 minutes shorter had Arnold cut a few solitary shots of rotting fruit and dead animals which looked more at home in a David Attenborough documentary than a seasoned costumed affair.

Final Thoughts
Andrea Arnold's inventive spin on an age old classic may detract purists of the source material, but has almost certainly rejuvenated a somewhat frail genre for a new generation with powerful star-turning performances from its four leads along with the brutal imagery and undeniably provocative themes hidden in the undergrowth. Gorgeous film-making.


Wuthering Heights is in selected cinemas throughout the U.K. now. Northern Irish visitors can view it in Belfast's Queens Film Theatre from Friday November 18th 2011.


The Queen's Film Theatre have put together a competition for devoted fans to visit 'Bronte Country'. Details here ::

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