This was my first opportunity to see director Andrea Arnold’s new film of ‘Wuthering Heights’. After a wiley, wuthering journey across the Long Causeway from Burnley and then down the hillsides into Hebden Bridge lay the delight of a mug of steaming tea in the Hebden Bridge Picture House.
The casting of a black actor is perfect in capturing the Heathcliff from the novel who is an outcast as soon as he arrives in Yorkshire. Picked up in a Christian act of charity from the streets of Liverpool the young Heathcliff suffers immediately a brutal racist response from the members of the family he joins as a brother to Cathy and Hindley Earnshaw. Resented as an intruder, he is treated like one of the beasts on the small holding.
Yet; the boy Heathcliff and his ‘sister’ Cathy run wild together on the moorland which surrounds the house. There is clearly a love, a elemental passion exposed between the two of them as they feel at one with the wind, the rain, the heather and the very ground they pound together. Their freedom of spirit is reflected in the high flying hen-harrier and the call of the lapwing across the wilderness of the peat moors.
This is no sentimental reading of the novel. The reality of the savagery of nature is confronted head on. You see Heathcliff cut the throat of a sheep, break the neck of a rabbit, hang a dog by its collar…. This is no tourist board Yorkshire. It is a tough, unremitting landscape: cold, bleak, repeatedly drenched in heavy rain; you hear the mud of the sucking peat bogs. If you have ever walked over Black Hill or White Moss in rain on the Pennine Way you will know exactly what I mean. It is a landscape of terrible beauty. There is little to choose at times, between this family scraping a living on the land and the animals living amongst them. It is a story full of anger, pain and passion; possibly the most passionate love affair in literature.
Strangely there is little dialogue. What there is, is sometimes heavy, clumsy. But the film is full of sound: the sound of the wind, of birds overhead, of rain, of squelching mud. A huge emphasis is on images, images of the land, rocks, the movement of heather in the wind, peat bogs, beetles, birds and sky; a huge, huge sky.
The structure of the film is broken by the decision of the director to have different actors to play the young and older Cathy and Heathcliff. For me the transition is just a little too strong. But this is a film true to the spirit of the book – the first time I’ve seen a Heathcliff dig up Cathy from her grave! A long way from Cliff Richard’s interpretation!!!!
Andrea Arnold gave an after show talk for a showing in Brighton. “What was your inspiration for the film?” asked one film buff.
“I read the book….” answered Andrea.
“Where did you get the ideas of so much wind and rain?” asked another.
“From the book,” answered Andrea with saintly patience.
It’s an uncomfortable journey but a great film experience – you might even want to read the book again!
Author: David Smith
You can view a trailer for the film here
Have you seen Wuthering Heights or any other of Andrea Arnolds films?
Let us know your thoughts!