MPAA Rating: Unrated
Director: Andrea Arnold
FilmPulse Score: 6.5/10
It seems like every so often cinema has to make a series film adaptations based on classic literature. It’s like an unwritten rule. First came Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre then Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, plus Mike Newell’s upcoming Great Expectations, but we are here to talk about Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s classic novel from 1847, Wuthering Heights.
Andrea Arnold happens to be one of, in my opinion, the most promising directors working in cinema. She has won a litany of awards for her previous efforts including 2006’s Red Road and 2009’s Fish Tank. Both films were filled with a certain amount of despair all while maintaining a sense of beauty against a gritty urban landscape. So it is somewhat surprising that Arnold chose to do an adaptation of Brontë’s Wuthering Heights for her third feature-length film. What isn’t surprising about Arnold’s radical take is her injection of the aforementioned grit in her early films, her use of brash modern language and the uncompromising way that she displays the desperate and, at times, monstrous actions of the film’s characters.
I noted earlier that Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights has been around since 1847, there has been a number of film adaptations in the past. Actually there has been a total of fifteen films based on Brontë’s novel, so I don’t really see the need to discuss the plot points of the film. Instead, I’ll discuss the direction Arnold has chosen to take her film adaptation.
The most notably decision Arnold has made is casting black actors to play the main character of Heathcliff. Solomon Glave plays the young Heathcliff while James Howson portrays the adult Heathcliff. In the past Heathcliff, more the most part, has been portrayed by white, British actors. Most notably, Laurence Olivier in William Wyler’s 1939 film and most recently by Ralph Fiennes (in his first film role) and Tom Hardy. But, the idea of casting Glave and Howson as Heathcliff makes perfect sense since in the book Heathcliff is described as “a dark-skinned gypsy”.
Solomon Glave does a commendable job playing the younger Heathcliff in a range of emotions and characteristics ranging from cautious curiosity than turns into a staunch, resolute hatred through a series of events attempting to break him. Throughout this time he develops one lone meaningful relationship with Catherine Earnshaw, portrayed in the beginning by Shannon Beer, who plays Catherine with a youthful energy and reckless abandon.
The star of the film, in the acting sense, is that of James Howson playing the grown-up, adult Heathcliff. Howson projects a remarkable sense of a man tortured by unrequited love, his past and his present and fueled by hatred and revenge. Longing for Kaya Scodelario, who portrays the adult Catherine Earnshaw with elegance and maturity. Adult Catherine is essentially devoid of all the qualities and characteristics that she displayed in her youth.
All of these elements and more are overshadowed, however, by the main attraction – the Cinematography. Robbie Ryan, Arnold’s regular cinematographer, does an astonishing job of capturing absolute beauty in every frame and having that beauty coalesce with the, rather, ugly elements of the characters and their actions. Arnold and Ryan took the rain-soaked moss and mud of the moors of Wuthering Heights and framed them perfectly evoking a tumultuous darkness amid a serene expanse of uncertainty. The cinematography is what makes this film.
While I can’t say that I have read the novel, so I have no idea if Arnold’s film stays true to the feel of the novel or the storyline. I do know that this film is the most enjoyable film adaptation of classic literature I have seen, which is a category I’m not very fond of. Hopefully, Andrea Arnold is done with the idea of re-imagining classic works and returns to making the films that feature her own original ideas. Whatever films Arnold ends up making, one hopes that she has the foresight to continue to collaborate with cinematographer Robbie Ryan. Anything featuring the talents of Arnold and Ryan is definitely worth a film lover’s attention.