Title: WUTHERING HEIGHTS
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten
Director: Andrea Arnold
Screenwriter: Andrea Arnold, Olivia Hetreed, from Emily Brontë’s novel
Cast: James Howson, Kaya Scodelario, Steve Evets, Nichola Burley, Oliver Milburn, Lee Shaw
Screened at: Broadway, NYC, 9/25/12
Opens: October 5, 2012
Life was nasty, brutish and short in the Yorkshire moors during the early part of the nineteenth century. If you did not die young of tuberculosis, you could suffer the beatings of sadistic people, thrashings which in some cases were avenged—leading to yet more violence. All this is present in Emily Brontë’s sole published novel, “Wuthering Heights,” which though at first faced with mixed reviews and controversies later became an English classic, like Emily’s sister Charlotte’s “Jane Eyre.” Such popular fare was Emily Brontë’s novel that it became the basis for some twenty productions on film and TV, a musical by Bernard J. Taylor, a ballet, three operas, a role-playing game and a song by Kate Bush in 1978.
To break through the redundancy of the productions, Andrea Arnold, a British director whose previous works include “Fish Tank” (life changes for a 15-year-old when her mom brings home a new boyfriend), and “Red Road” (a woman is compelled to confront a man she never wanted to see again), makes some daring choices.
In the boldest move thought up by Arnold and co-writer Olivia Hetreed, the principal character is played by two black men, James Howson as the grown-up Heathcliff and Solomon Glave as the young boy. Then again, the choice is not so far out, since Brontë described Heathcliff as “dark-skinned gypsy in aspect,” leading the production team to search for actors aged 16 to 21 of mixed race, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or of Middle Eastern descent.
In the film, Mr. Earnshaw (Paul Hilton), a Yorkshire farm owner whose home is Wuthering Heights, takes in a homeless lad, calling it the Christian thing to do, giving the boy the name Heathcliff (Solomon Glave as the young Heathcliff). As the boy spends time with Cathy (Shannon Beer), the farmer’s daughter, they develop an affection for each other that will turn to an obsessive passion. When Hindley Earnshaw (Lee Shaw), who is Cathy’s brother, tries to undercut Heathcliff’s influence, even beating the boy, the brother is sent away, returning home to take over the farm upon his father’s death. To better her life, Cathy (now Kaya Scodelario) marries with Edgar Linton (Jonny Powell), the son from a wealthy family. Heathcliff takes off, returning in much better financial shape years later (now played by James Howson), where he moves in with his former enemy Hindley, who is in need of money from any source. Cathy and Heathcliff meet secretly until tragedy strikes.
While some critics will find much to praise in Arnold’s version of the English classic, doubtless finding a breakthrough version that might better appeal to a modern audience and a forceful depiction of wild, but doomed passion, several factors work against the film. One is the 4:3 aspect ratio, turning the story into a near-square rather than the rectangular shape that TV viewers are accustomed to. This leads to impressions that are even more claustrophobic than previous incarnations have been. Another is the dialect, which is barely understandable (only the Scottish such as in “Trainspotting” would be more muddled). Given the nature of the heavily accented dialogue, it’s a blessing that Arnold chose to let the visuals tell most of the story, inserting the spoken word only for incomplete sentences and exclamations and what amounts more or less to throat clearing.
Yet a third flaw, multiple problems, in fact, is Robbie Ryan’s cinematography coupled with Nicolas Chaudeurge’s editing, which relegate most of the scenes to near darkness and the fights depicted with the stereotypical moving camera likely to cause audience members to wonder who is dealing what cuts and bruises to whom.
Unrated. 128 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B-
Technical – D
Overall – C