Still from Wuthering Heights
Sundance Film Festival
Director: Andrea Arnold
I imagine that a few people strayed away from this film simply because it is a Victorian novel adaptation from the UK. Perhaps they expected a theater full of 20- to 40-something-year-olds hoping to catch a glimpse of Colin Firth. However, this "adaptation" couldn't be further from that demographic if it had brought in transforming robots and an electro soundtrack. I put "adaptation" in quotes because, though it loosely follows the plot of Emily Bronte's 1847 publication, the film is another creature altogether.
The story presented in the film begins when a young boy is rescued from the streets by the Christian good-will of Yorkshire farmer Earnshaw (Paul Hilton). Given the name Heathcliff (young character played by Solomon Glave), the boy befriends the farmer's teenage daughter Catherine (young character played by Shannon Beer) in a passionate and obsessive relationship, while becoming the enemy and punching bag of Earnshaw's racist son, Hindley (Lee Shaw). That's right, Director Andrea Arnold cast Heathcliff with a black actor! When Earnshaw dies suddenly and Hindley is made the master of the house, the lives of the two teenage lovers begin to move in separate directions and the rest of the film is drenched in heartbreak and tragedy as they try to reconnect as adults.
Having read Wuthering Heights as a young woman, the parts of the novel that struck me the most were the anguish, pain and complete exclusion felt by Heathcliff, made all the more dark and heavy by the descriptions of the lonely English moors in which the story is set. The film zoomed in on those parts and brought them to life Planet Earth style. The film has little dialogue, especially in the first half as we watch the young lovers' relationship develop, and it has no music soundtrack. Arnold relied on the stark beauty and wildness of the film's location––the western end of Swaledale in North Yorkshire––along with its magnification of natural sounds (the wind on the moors, fingers scraping against bark, etc.), provided by French sound designer Nicholas Becker, to give Bronte's novel the texture and emotion usually provided through a film's script and soundtrack. Dare I say that Arnold has perhaps surpassed the classic story given to us by Bronte through this visual masterpiece.
I do, however, have one gripe: the actors. Making their film debut in Wuthering Heights, the young Heathcliff and Catherine played by Glave and Beer, respectively, are cast perfectly for their roles as adolescent lovers. Beer has an untamed look about her that is exactly as I pictured Catherine to be, and though he says little, Arnold's choice in Glave as Heathcliff (and interpreting Heathcliff's outcast persona as an issue of race) was genius. At the halfway mark, when the characters grow up and the cast is swapped for James Howson (Heathcliff) and Kaya Scodelario (Catherine), and the script becomes more talky, I was a little disappointed by the execution. The last half of the plot is the most tumultuous, full of tragedy, heartbreak, drama, but Scodelario's acting doesn't live up to the novel's characterization of Catherine's insanity. Fist-time actor Howson recites his lines in an almost robotic tone, and though his obsession with Catherine should also be maddening, I felt nothing as he struggled with his emotions.
All in all, this was an amazing film that is worth seeing if only to appreciate the beauty of the Yorkshire countryside and experience a fresh interpretation of a Victorian classic. Even with the story-line liberties taken by Arnold and the so-so acting in the last half, Wuthering Heights is sure to exceed expectations.
Time: 3:00 pm Date: 1/22/2012 Venue: Peery's Egyptian Theater
Time: 11:30 am Date: 1/27/2012 Venue: Egyptian Theatre
Time: 6:45 pm Date: 1/28/2012 Venue: Broadway Centre Cinema 3