Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights extracted not only the essence of the raw power of the doomed love tale of the two youngsters, Catherine and Heatcliff, from Emily Brontë's novel, and the desolate beauty of the landscape, but, most of all, the sense of entrapment pervading the whole story by the violence of nature and social conventions, and brilliantly translated them to this succinct but heart wrenching film. What defines it is the intense emotional impact it has on the audience (in this case, the audience being myself), not the easy tear jerking sentimentality that we see so often in the screen, specially in the so-called “feel good” movies, but a kind of cry coming out of the heart, that not only buries deep under the skin, but stays there afterwards. A kind of emotional pain that is even stronger because at its core I found the dryness of my eyes. I am writing this review a couple of weeks after I saw the film, yet it still goes round and round on my head, I cannot get it out of my heart, of my mind...
To achieve this Andrea Arnold, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Olivia Hetreed, wrenched the guts of Catherine Earnshaw and Heatcliff (just Heatcliff) doomed tale out of the core of Emily Brontë's story and threw them onto our faces, the violent beauty of the hills of the Yorkshire Dales powerfully conveyed through the lens of the cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, and the eyes of Andrea Arnold, in a series of vignettes and close ups that chills the bones in winter, and makes the heart smile in summer, a landscape being like a chisel moulding the characters and their lives. Surely, the purists will moan at the disappearance of some of the characteristics of the book, such as the narrator, and the post Catherine life at Wuthering Heights; the ending of the film just hinting at what is still to come. Yet, it is the distilling of the story to its core elements is what gives Arnold's interpretation of the story its raw power.
I initially felt that her choice of a 4:3 format as opposed to the more usual 16:9 was somewhat disconcerting, surely, that luscious landscape deserved the wider format. Yet, after a while, I realized that by doing so, Arnold was able to brilliantly yet subliminally convey the sense of entrapment that limited not only Cathy's and Heatcliff's options, but those of everybody else; the close ups of nature indicating a wild life which has been moulded by this landscape as strongly as the humans lives are.
The transformation of a free spirit Cathy the child (Shannon Beer conveying the nuances of her impudent innocence of the “ways of the world”) into Miss Catherine Earnshaw the young lady (Kaya Scodelario's performance strikes right into Cathy's schizophrenic position between her mind and her heart) after her stay at the Linton's home is as brutally clear in the film as it is in the book, signalling the power of the constraints posed by social conventions which led to the despair of her relationship with Heatcliff (James Howson admirable portray of the steely and cruel determination of Heatcliff, so appallingly treated by Catherine's brother, to reclaim her) , the presumably orphan “gipsy” boy (Solomon Glave) picked up from the streets of Liverpool by Cathy's father.
Andrea Arnold's decision to distil the tragic love story of the two youngsters who leap at each other from across class and race boundaries to its bare bones paid off, as I felt its humanity grabbing and holding my heart, a timeless story. A classic version of the classic tale.
Wuthering Heights is distributed by Artificial Eye.
For more information on the film please click HERE.