British Cinema - Andrea Arnold

Andrea Arnold, who was born in 1961 and brought up in a council house in Dartford Kent the eldest of four children, is a writer and director in a tradition of British filmmakers who push at the boundaries of UK cinema with her authentic scripts and documentary film making style, drawing comparisons with the social realism of films by Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Lynne Ramsey. Throughout the 1980’s Arnold had a regular spot on a Saturday morning kids TV programme as well as being part of Zoo, a dance troupe, which appeared on Top of the Pops.

Disturbing is probably the only way you could describe Wasp (2003) for which she won an Academy Award for Live Action Short. This 26-minute film charts a day in the life of a single mum Zoe (Nathalie Press) who meets up with an old boyfriend Dave (Danny Dyer) and leaves her four very young children to fend for them selves in a pub car park in Dartford! An emotional piece of film making that’s totally believable.

Her first full-length feature film Red Road (2006) was a great success winning lots of prestige awards including a BAFTA for Best Newcomer in Directing and the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2006. Red Road was the first of three films planned by Advance Party, a Danish project instigated by director Lars von Trier. Arnold and two other directors, whose work is yet to appear, were challenged to make films using a clearly defined set of rules, which included using the same group of characters and the same pool of actors. Red Road is about grief, loss and coming to terms with it. Jackie (Kate Dickie) works as a CCTV operator in Glasgow. Each day she watches over a small part of the city, protecting the people living their lives under the gaze of the cameras. One day a man (Tony Curran) appears on her monitor, a man she thought she would never see, or wanted to see, again. The film also stars Martin Compston and Natalie Press and of course the imposing Red Road Tower Block in Glasgow. Under Arnold’s easy directorial style the story comes across as very real and she extracts great performances from all involved.

Her latest feature film has also landed the Cannes Jury Prize along with the British Independent Film Award for Best Director. Fish Tank (2009), filmed over a period of six weeks in the summer of 2008, is the story of Mia, a volatile 15 year old, who is always in trouble and who has become excluded from school and ostracized by her friends. Her life is turned on its head when her self absorbed mother Joanne brings home a new boyfriend, a mysterious stranger, called Connor. The mood of the film is similar to Wasp and in fact could almost be the same family now living in a tower block on a Barking housing estate in Essex some 4 or 5 years later. Newcomer Katie Jarvis, who was discovered arguing with her boyfriend on Tilbury Town Station, gives an excellent performance as Mia. Another newcomer is the wonderful Rebecca Griffiths who plays Mia’s 11 year old sister Tyler. Kierston Wareing is cast as Joanne and the great Michael Fassbender, Eden Lake (2008), Hunger ( 2008), Inglourious Basterds( 2009) plays Conner. Film critic Philip French observed that the tone of the film is far removed from the British New Wave of the early 1960’ as it lacks the sense of hope or belief in the essential decency of the working class found in the 60’s movies, partially A Taste of Honey (1961) although Mia is no Jo. What they do have in common is the same anger and defiance. A very sad and moving film at times, a must see for anyone who enjoys British hard edged drama.

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.

The young Heathcliff and Cathy.
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 

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 Earnshaw’s 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.
The North Yorkshire Moors.

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.”

Kaya Scodelario as the older Cathy.

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 opposite Robert Carlisle in Summer (2008) and Nichola Burley, (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 could never imagine Lawrence Olivier playing the Heathcliff role!