Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Wuthering Heights (2011 film)
Based on the novel by Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights is the story about a young woman who falls for her adopted brother as they later become separated until meeting each other as adults hoping to reclaim their love. Directed by Andrea Arnold and screenplay by Arnold and Olivia Hetreed, the film is a deconstruction of Bronte’s novel to explore the complexity of an enduring love affair. Starring Kaya Scodelario, James Howson, and Oliver Milburn. Wuthering Heights is a visually-astonishing and mesmerizing film from Andrea Arnold.
The story of Wuthering Heights revolves around a young man who is adopted by a rich family as he falls for their daughter. Despite the abuse he encounters from the family, he finds love in this young girl as they have a great relationship only to be torn apart by circumstances beyond their control. After he leaves for some years, he returns as a man to find his childhood home in ruins while learning that the woman he loves is married and has become bitter over his departure many years ago. It’s a story that’s been told many times in many film adaptations but what Andrea Arnold and co-screenwriter Olivia Hetreed do with the story is create something different by casting the character of Heathcliff as a black man. It’s an unusual approach to the story but it adds a lot of dramatic weight to the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine as they have something that is pure and unique.
While the film doesn’t have much of a plot, it does explore the unique relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine where they are intrigued by each other as children. A lot of the film’s first half is about that relationship where Heathcliff is taken by Catherine’s father to live with them though Heathcliff arrives as a troubled boy who has never experienced love. Through Catherine, all of that changes for Heathcliff despite the abuse he receives from her brother Hindley (Lee Shaw). After some circumstances where Catherine meets Edgar Linton, the relationship changes where Heathcliff finally leaves thinking he’s lost Catherine. Upon his return as an adult where he sees the home that is Wuthering Heights a shell of its former self, he learns that Catherine has married Edgar as she is in another home where her reaction towards Heathcliff is mixed. Particularly as she wonders why he did leave as Heathcliff is also being pursued by her sister-in-law Isabella. Still, there is that sense of regret in Heathcliff as well as the sense of longing between the two.
Arnold’s direction is very interesting for the way she shoots the film in a full-frame 1:33:1 theatrical aspect ratio. While it’s a format that doesn’t show some of the full detail of the landscapes set in the north of Britain, it does manage to convey a sense of atmosphere in the close-ups and imagery that Arnold presents. Particularly as it also plays up a sense of naturalism to the film in terms of its lighting and dramatic tension where the film does sort of start at the end to convey everything that Heathcliff is going through with his life with Catherine. Many of the scenes are also shot in hand-held cameras to create that air of looseness in the story and drama while Arnold does also create moments that are quite still and intense. Notably in the film’s third act where Heathcliff and Catherine are adults as the film often features images of their life as children where they both hope to reclaim that place in time where they were happy and free. Overall, Arnold creates a very hypnotic and rich film about love and all of the turmoil it brings.
Cinematographer Robbie Ryan does amazing work with the photography with the use of natural lights in many of the murky exteriors in the swamps to the some of the scenes at night to play out the tense atmosphere of the film. Editor Nicolas Chaudeurge does brilliant work with the editing as it features some stylish jump-cuts to play out the drama and the romance. Production designer Helen Scott, along with set decorator Alice Norris and art director Christopher Wyatt, does fantastic work with the look of the Wuthering Heights farm to the Linton home where the adult Catherine lives.
Costume designer Steve Noble does excellent work with the clothes of the period from the colorless look of the clothes Heathcliff and Catherine wears as kids to the more looser dresses that Catherine wears as an adult. Sound editor Nicolas Becker does great work with the sound to capture the sound of the winds to some of the scenes at the house to maintain that air of isolation the characters go into.
The casting by Des Hamilton, Lucy Pardee, and Gail Stevens is superb for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small roles from Oliver Milburn as Mr. Linton, Lee Shaw as the abusive Hindley, Amy Wren as Hindley’s wife Frances, Steve Evets as the family farmer Joseph, Simone Jackson as the Linton maid Nelly, and Paul Hilton as Catherine’s father Mr. Earnshaw who takes in Heathcliff. Jonny Powell and James Northcote are very good in their respective roles as the young and adult Edgar Linton who woos Catherine while the older Edgar has no idea what to do with her. Eve Coverly is wonderful as the young Isabella Linton while Nichola Burley is terrific as the adult Isabella who falls for Heathcliff while having to endure his feelings for Catherine.
Finally, there’s the four principle actors who play the lead roles of Catherine and Heathcliff. In the roles of the young Heathcliff and Catherine, Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer are great in their respective roles where Glave gives a mostly silent yet brooding performance as the young Heathcliff while Beer is more outgoing and exciting as the young Catherine. In the adult roles of Heathcliff and Catherine, James Howson and Kaya Scodelario are brilliant in their respective roles with Howson as a more anguished Heathcliff who wants to redeem himself while Scodelario as a more distant and somewhat cold approach to Catherine.
Wuthering Heights is an extraordinary film from Andrea Arnold. Featuring an amazing ensemble cast and rich imagery, it’s a film that takes Emily Bronte’s novel and strip it down to something more simple and to the point with its exploration of love and longing. In the end, Wuthering Heights is a remarkable film from Andrea Arnold.
Andrea Arnold Films: Red Road - Fish Tank - American Honey - Cow (2021 film) - (Bird (2024 film)) - The Auteurs #31: Andrea Arnold
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