Sunday, 4 December 2011

Wuthering Heights


Not surprising is the release of yet another re-telling of a classic novel that has made its way into our cinemas.

Andrea Arnold’s brave adaptation of Bronte’s novel can certainly be credited for its originality and ambitiousness. In this version, Heathcliffe is a black runaway from the urban grit of Liverpool whose been picked up by the Earnshaws and raised on their country farm in Yorkshire. As youngsters, Healthcliffe (Lee Shaw) and Cathy (Shannon Beer) form a stiff but compassionate relationship, existing as a sort of innocent hybrid between siblings and lovers. As they spend their endless days playing together on the moors, they live harmoniously within their passionate childhood romance.

While the vision of oppression is still apparent, the casting of a black actor as Heathcliff as a spin on Brontë’s “dark-skinned gypsy” diverts the tale’s initial theme of social class as a barrier between the characters relationship and instead is replaced with racial obstacles. Healthcliffe spends his early years subject to Cathy’s racist and vindictive brother, victim to his malicious treatment and cruel humiliation (“He ain’t my brother, he’s a nigger.”) Although we see the isolating life of an Afro-Caribbean in mid 19th century England through his eyes, we know very little about his past and background.

The characters in their younger form effectively embrace a kindled and instinctual love and friendship, most memorably characterised in the touching scene whereby Cathy tenderly soaks and licks the blood off Heathcliffes slave-whipped back. However as adults (Kaya Scodelario & James Howson) the characters and actors become less convincing and more distant, both with one another and with the audience. As Heathcliffe returns to the farm wealthy, accomplished and still yearning for Cathy, his ongoing battle for her love is considerably diluted by their thin presences and seemingly disinterested and emotionally absent selves. The lack of a finite tragedy in the films conclusion is disappointing; with a lack of emotional build up from the aging transition and a missing dramatic edge, we are left just as disillusioned from the world as Healthcliffe becomes.

Typical of many modern-day adaptations of novels is the reliance of visual images and sounds over literary dialogue. With superb camera work and a plausible soundtrack that catches the ambience of the bleak moor, we rather wish dialogue had been cut altogether. With repeated use of the words ‘cunt’ and ‘nigger’ being spat around between the characters (with “fuck off, you cunt” being Heathcliffe’s initial greeting to the Linton’s over dinner) we severely doubt much use of Bronte’s literary reference. The dialogue appears effective in highlighting how the brutal world and harsh environment has sucked the residents into its lair; however we cannot help but feel shocked and uneasy as we are vastly stricken from our ordinary cosy period drama.

Arnolds focus on camera work sweeping the bleak and desolate moors and zooming in on nature’s wilderness is an effective depiction of the gritty moors and perhaps the highlight of the film. While this superbly homes in on the harsh environment in which the characters live, we are still discontent with the lack of attention, description, and even reference to, the building and grounds of Wuthering Heights which we are so intimately connected to in Bronte’s novel and in previous film adaptations.

Arnold has without a doubt completely re-energised the story for a new generation in her austere, elemental version but the fact that it severely lacks reference to its original roots regarding characters, plot and literary dialogue and disregards the novel’s intensely emotional disposition, almost to the point that Bronte herself would perhaps not recognise it as her own work, struggles to place Arnolds work as a homage to its origin.

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