Film Review: Wuthering Heights – The Original Emo Love Story Gets A Bit Lost On The Moor.
By Adam Clery on November 10, 2011 in Film
If you’re my age, or at least somewhere near it, then you were probably subjected to Wuthering Heights in school. “This is a classic. It’s one of the greatest love stories ever told. It’s a defining piece of British literature. Cliff Richard did a musical” and other such statements that would strike a crippling, unrelenting fear into the heart of any 17 year old boy.
Imagine my elation then, when I heard it had been given a fresh coat of contemporary gloss and was being thrust back into the cinematic consciousness. With the lassie from Skins in it, no less.
If my opening gambit hadn’t made it clear, I’ll put my cards on the table for you now; I hated the book. I hated the story, I hated the characters, I hated the cheap paper it was printed on, everything. Only the occasional scribbling of poorly imagined genitalia, left to me by the previous owner of this hand-me-down council copy, made it even remotely worth picking up.
Credit where it’s due though to my English teacher Mrs Clughen, in the face of insurmountable apathy she still milked a whole A-Level out of it for me. But I digress.
Wuthering Heights is, at its most basic form, the original tale of spoiled, middle-class emo types. Life is hard on the farm, or manor, or wherever it is, but they’re a land owning family and they do have nannies and helpers and what not. They seem poor by our lavish standards of Love Film subscriptions and Dolmio stir-in sauces, but in reality, they’re all quite well-to-do.
They’re so well off in fact, that they can afford to feed, clothe and raise a child they just happen to find sprawled on the street. Of course though, life’s so terribly hard for the little scamp because he’s practically tearing his own skin off to get stuck into his new sister. Poor lamb.
It’s supposed to be this harrowing tale of an outsider, coming into a community and shaking it to its core, then having social ill-will, tradition and resentment come between him and the woman he loves. Instead it’s just some moody arse shacking up with a couple of Telegraph readers and trying so hard to be deep and interesting that some twerp up the road swoops in a steals her from him.
The lady in question then spends the rest of the book whinging herself, quite literally, to death.
So you don’t envy Andrea Arnold, who both penned and directed this film, from making it relevant to a generation who’ve grown up thinking romance was just the stain on Jordan and Peter Andre’s bedsheets. But, and it pains me to say this, she’s actually done quite a decent job. If only because she’s very clearly understood her audience.
First of all, she’s addressed the issue of Heathcliff. A lot of people might not fully grasp 19th century snobbishness, but they’ll certainly understand racism, so the alteration of the character from Bronte’s “gypsy in aspect” to black actors Solomon Glave and James Howson, was as brave as it was smart. A point that’s continually rammed home by a more than liberal dusting of 21st century racial slurs. Yes, even the Ron Atkinson one.
In fact, the language has been given a coarse upgrade right across the board now, and wouldn’t sound out of place in one of those E4 dramas I do my best to avoid. Neither too would the cast, the aforementioned Howson comes off like an awkward GCSE drama student and, when combined with Skins’ Kaya Scodelario, offers about as much chemistry as two River Island mannequins that have fallen over into a rude pose.
Praise instead should be pointed in the direction of the far younger Glave and Shannon Beer, who in their roles as the juvenile Cathy and Heathcliff, offer the only really believable performances in the whole film.
The real star of the show though, at least in terms of sheer screen-time, are the Moors.
You remember how Titanic was predominately a film about interbreeding between the classes and Kate Winslet’s whams, that simply used the historic sinking of a big boat as a way to move the plot on? Well, Wuthering Heights is similar, in that it’s a film predominately about what an inhospitable place Yorkshire is, and how easily it is to strangulate dogs, that uses Emily Bronte’s book as a way to keep things ticking over.
That might sound daft, but almost half of the film is dedicated to showcasing the effects of blowing wind on unsecured stable doors, the rich variety of insect life that inhabits the undergrowth, and rain. In a tale that really has to work hard to justify the sopping, bleating actions of its stooges, too much time is lost in giving the film its isolated, and occasionally claustrophobic feel.
A shame really, as despite the slightly wooden cast and moping nature of the script, there genuinely seemed to be the potential for something of real substance and atmosphere here. Sadly it degenerates into a case of “ooh, look at that” rather than “ooh, listen to this”. Basically, if you’re not already familiar with the story, you’ll might struggle to get your head around what’s going on, and why.
If any line stuck with me from the book, it was definitely the ghostly moans of “I’ve lost my way on the moor”. Ironically enough, in spending far too long trying to film lens flares and insects falling off leaves, that’s exactly what Andrea Arnold has ended up doing. It’s more entertaining than the book, but just not as entertaining as it could have been.
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