While we had another adaptation of “Jane Eyre” in the last year, there was also another adaptation of “Wuthering Heights”, a brooding romance tale of wild, passionate, and destructive lovers in the gloomy wilderness. Like her sister’s classic novel, Emily Brontë’s equally classic novel has been made into the feature films many times(according to IMDB trivia, it is around 20 at present), and the most famous one among them is William Wyler’s version made in 1939 with Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Catherine.
While following the basic plot in the novel like other versions, the latest version of “Wuthering Heights” draws our attention from the start due to its unorthodox approach. What we get here is a curious mix of the 19th century gothic romance tale and the independent film style, and, though this attempt is not always successful in the film, this provides several moments of raw emotions in the vivid atmosphere of the wilderness where the wind is constantly blowing over the field with the gray clouds hovering over the characters.
And there is an interesting casting choice in the film. Heathcliff in this version is a Negro character played by Solomon Glave during the first part and then played by James Howson later. As far as I remember, Heathcliff in the novel is just described as a dark-skinned gypsy, but it does not matter – this change makes Heathcliff an unwelcomed outsider more than before, and it works well in the context of the story. What the hell, to be frank with you, what I pictured in my mind while reading the novel was darker than Laurence Olivier in Wyler’s film, anyway.
As many of you expect, the story begins with one rainy and windy evening as its opening scene. To the family eagerly waiting for his return, Mr. Earnshaw(Paul Hilton) brings a disagreeable surprise – a nameless orphan boy he encountered on the way back to his home. His family is not particularly rich, but, because he believes it is a Christian thing to do, Mr. Earnshaw decides to take this boy under his wing and treat him like a family member, and he later names him Heathcliff.
The relationship between Heathcliff and Mr. Earnshaw’s children is certainly rocky from the beginning. Hindley(Lee Shaw), Mr. Earnshaw’ son, hates Heathcliff right from the first time they face each other, and so does Heathcliff. While Mr. Earnshaw is the head of the household, they manage to live together with growing mutual animosity, but, after Mr. Earnshaw dies at one unfortunate night, Hindley takes the control, and the first thing he does as the new head of the household is more harassment toward Heathcliff, who is banished to the pen and treated like one of the servants in the house.
In case of Catherine(Shannon Beer), Mr. Earnshaw’s unruly daughter, her encounter with Heathcliff can be called Meet Rude; she spits on his face as soon as he is introduced to her family, and he is not so nice even when he is treated with generosity. But Catherine starts to show the interest to him at the same night like the girls at her age usually do. Soon they spend lots of time together in the wilderness surrounding the house, and they begin to feel the bond between them while recognizing each other as a fellow kindred spirit.
The sensitive depiction of this growing relationship between them is the best part of the film, and I think that is why the director/co-adaptor Andrea Arnold was drawn to the film. Her previous film “Fish Tank”(2009) was also about a young wild girl constantly clashing with others surrounding her, and that movie captured well the volatile and uncertain emotional state of a teenager girl through the intimate handheld camera approach to its subject.
Arnold applies a similar approach to her characters of the 19th century as well. Shot in 1.37:1 ratio with the handheld camera usually following them or running or shaking with them, the movie is a little suffocating at times while looking quite closely at the characters and the objects on the screen, but this approach imbues the film with lots of raw intimacy not often observed in other period drama films. Looking at them closely, we can feel how two characters see each other. Young performers Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer are excellent as a boy and a girl who gradually realizes what their respective hearts want, and they have many good scenes in the film. Cathy and Heathcliff are certainly not mild characters, and their interactions are somewhere between fight and play, so we get a rough emotional moment on the mud field which will haunt them and bind them together forever in their memories.
It must be mentioned that the cinematographer Robbie Ryan provides the vivid background and atmosphere for the story. The wilderness in the film is rarely sunny, but the juxtaposition of the grey sky and the wide green field with rocky mounds has the desolate wild beauty along with the sound of the wind frequently heard in the soundtrack. The people besides the members of the Earnshaws and their employees are rarely seen in the movie except the Lintons, a rich family who unluckily gets involved with the passionate lovers like Heathcliff and Cathy.
That is the point where the movie starts to begin lose its power, and the constant flashback scenes from the first part keep remind us how good it is compared to the second part. I do not blame Kaya Scodelario and James Howson, who play older Cathy and Heathcliff in that part, but their part is less interesting and lively. I must point out that the characters besides them in the film are not defined well, and most of them come to us as flat, bland characters throughout the story.
But I still think this new version of “Wuthering Heights” is an interesting one with considerable power generated from its different attempt. Even when I found the story tedious at times, I enjoyed its mood and the natural performances from its actors. Maybe you will be disappointed by this arthouse movie treatment of a classic literature novel if you expect a juicy melodrama, but it surely has a right stage for a wild boy meeting a wild girl.