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Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate tale of the intense and demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, allegedly a Gypsy foundling adopted by Catherine's father. After Mr ... See full summary »
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Hareton disturbed me the most in this film based on Wuthering Heights.
Dour before his time, he appears now and then in the early scenes, a
dirty blonde-haired urchin, to gawp at visitors, or to witness violent
abuse from the sidelines. In the final scene, he is seen hanging up
dogs by their collars. The depiction of Hareton is related to the
'cruelty breeds cruelty' message in Andrea Arnold's film and in Emily
Brontë's novel, if that can be seen, glibly, as a straight deliverer of
messages. Considerable respect has been shown to the original: a fair
amount of thought and research seems to have gone into finding out what
was in Emily Brontë's mind and how she saw her characters, and into the
late eighteenth century in Yorkshire. All the artefacts stoneware
jars, spades for digging out peat and so on look as if they have been
borrowed from a folk museum, the costumes appear to be authentic, and
Heathcliff is black. All perfectly credible.
The unknown James Howson from Leeds was cast as the adult Heathcliff,
with the equally unknown Solomon Glave as his young version. We do not
find out which language he speaks when he first arrives, because there
is very little speaking in the whole film. It is not dialogue- free,
employing a few sentences and phrases from the novel, rather like the
quotes a candidate might fish out for an A-level essay, with more of
them in the film's second half, after Heathcliff's return, than in the
first. At other times, the words which the characters use seem to have
grown from improvisation sessions, giving the action a kind of Ken
Loach feel at times. To leave out most of Emily Brontë's beautiful
prose and the second half of her story, as usual are bold moves
which a few literary folk might find outrageous. I can fully understand
the opinions of those who might describe the film as 'coarse and
disagreeable', but then the structure of the novel does not match the
needs of the cinema. Unlike Cary Fukunaga, who retained as many of
Charlotte's words as possible in his Jane Eyre, Andrea Arnold has gone
in an opposite direction, because she has decided not to bother with
conventional costume dramas.
This Wuthering Heights relies on cinematography, the impact of fresh
and young actors (eat your heart out, Stanislavski), an authentic
period feel and a powerful, often startling harshness. Arnold has said
that she "had to pick out the things that had resonance to me" and that
she wanted to give the children plenty of time at the beginning.
This was a good move, because the children are by far the most
interesting. Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer have "not acted before",
but manage to be fascinating, holding everything together for an hour.
Full marks to Arnold there. The story is told through sounds and
sights: we see the boy's amazement and disorientation when he arrives,
Cathy's warm smile the only warmth a feather brushing a cheek, his
hand on the horse's rump when he rides behind her, his smelling of her
hair, the weals on his back after a beating by Joseph, her mouth as she
licks the blood from them, their crude and muddy sexual fumbling out on
the moors. Sensual imagery with a vengeance! Raw teenage emotion in our
faces! And I loved Shannon Beer's charming rendition of Barbara Allen.
She's a proper wild, wicked slip of a girl.
Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan won the Golden Osella Award at the
last Venice Film Festival for Best Cinematography, deservedly. His low
shots through clumps of sedge and his panoramas of the moors (filming
took place on the bleaker areas around Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales)
are stunning, but what is especially memorable is his selection of
close-ups of the insects, flowers and small creatures to be found in
the heather and under the bilberries. I was looking out for harebells,
but did not notice any. Perhaps they were the wrong kind of flower
here. The wind sounded right I recognise that wind as it battered
the microphone relentlessly.
The creatures of the wild moors a couple of centuries ago have a strong
present-times feel, because casting in this way has put racial
prejudice in the forefront. Heathcliff is full of revengeful passions
because he has been racially abused. The violent skinhead Hindley (Lee
Shaw) is notably foul-mouthed when he does speak, like an adherent of
some far-right organisation, and the enforced baptism scene shows that
the church was pretty short on tender loving care when it came to new
dark-skinned members of the congregation. The West Yorkshire accents
are just right.
In the second half, the adult Heathcliff (James Howson) does not spend
long on relishing his revenge on Hindley, but that is not the only
disappointment. Both James Howson and Kaya Scodelario, who plays the
adult Cathy, bear only token resemblances to their child counterparts,
and have less presence. Cathy is not differentiated from Isabella
enough, and seems to be unrelated to her younger self, which can not be
explained away by her presence in the sophistication of Thrushcross
Grange, where manners (and the mild weather) are always better.
Heathcliff seems somehow clumsier and less sympathetic, a fact which is
not helped by James Howson's lack of acting experience (more forgivable
in Solomon Glave), and the shots of flowers and insects which sustained
the first half become less effective because they are repeated too
much. James Northcote's acting as Edgar is faultless, but seems out of
place here, as if he has stepped out of another film.
And that other film could be the 1939 version, which is at the other
end of the spectrum.
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