Although I am not a great lover of the historical period drama, I was looking forward to an Andrea Arnold take on the genre and I was not disappointed. Having never seen any other adaptation of Emily Bronte’s famous novel I went to see this latest version of Wuthering Heights (2011) with no preconceived ideas and from the perspective of any other new film release.
Both producer Robert Bernstein of Ecosse Films and the director wanted to make this adaptation in a way that it had not been done before. Seeing it as a story of extreme emotional cruelty, physical abuse, consuming obsession and complete isolation, an inescapable tragedy, the story of the ultimate outsider. For the first time casting a black actor as Heathcliff, which expanded the story to deal with race as well as class. “It's gothic, feminist, socialist, sadomasochistic, Freudian, incestuous, violent and visceral. Trying to melt all that together into a film is an ambitious and perhaps foolish task. Any attempt will never do the book justice. But it was like I had no choice. Once the idea was in my head I could not put it down. Even when things became very difficult I couldn't let it go.” Quoting Andrea Arnold from the films press release
|The young Heathcliff and Cathy.|
Arnold and Olivia Hetreed (who also wrote the screen play for 2003’s Girl with a Pearl Earring) adapted the 1847 novel giving it a new twist and making the most intriguing part of the story the early lives of the doomed lovers and the devastating effects it has on both of them and the people around them all seen from Heathcliff’s point of view. Brought from the Liverpool Docks to the remote farmhouse on the isolated Yorkshire moors by the hill farmer Mr. Earnshaw to live as part of his family. This young black orphan immediately strikes up a friend ship with Earnshaws young daughter Cathy; an obsessive relationship develops fired by their adolescent sexual desires. Heathcliff’s life on the farm takes a turn for the worst when Cathy’s father dies and her elder brutish brother Hindley treats him as slave labour as well as physically and verbally abusing him. Heathcliff leaves the farm, returning some years later as a successful adult but when he discovers Cathy has married her neighbour, the well to do Edgar Linton, his mental state deteriorates.
|Cathy Earnshaw is to marry Edgar Linton..|
The movie has a grittiness and a tremendous sense of reality about it, which is interesting in a period piece, but its obviously helped in its authenticity by filming in a remote location at the Western end of Swaledale in North Yorkshire a cold and wet backdrop. With its minimal dialog it relies on visuals rather than the normal wordy outpouring of historical adaptations. As with her previous two feature films Arnold used as her Director of Photography Robbie Ryan who does an absolutely brilliant job with the dreadfully cold and bleak countryside making it almost a character in its own right. The camera work not only exposes the depravity of the times but also the raw beauty of the Yorkshire Dales.
No standard soundtrack is provided, unless of course you count The Enemy, which was specially written for the film and performed over the closing credits by Mumford and Son. It was Arnold’s decision to forego a musical score but bring in French sound designer Nicholas Becker, who had already worked with her on Red Road, to complement Ryan’s imagery with natural sound. “I wanted to hear everything, the animals, the wind, the kicking, the slapping, the whipping, the yelping, the screams, the crying, the pain.”
|Heathcliff returns a wealthy man.|
As in her previous film the director works with a mix of actors and non-actors. Actress Kaya Scodelario plays the older Cathy, with James Howson making his feature film-acting debut as the older Heathcliff,. Other debut performances come from Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer as the younger Heathcliff and Cathy. More familiar names involved are Steve Evets who you would have seen in Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric (2009) and probably opposite Robert Carlisle in Summer (2008) and Nichola Burley, seen at the RBC Film Club in Dumfries in Soulboy (2010), as Isabella Linton.
An immensely gifted and intriguing piece of filmmaking dealing brilliantly with the early lives of our two passionately doomed lovers. Don’t get me wrong it may be a romance but it’s both brutal and violent. After watching this I just could not imagine Lawrence Olivier playing the Heathcliff role!