I love a good period piece. Especially if it is an adaptation of a classic novel. That’s my jam! Though admittedly it can be like karaoke in that it is just a copy of the “original”. Some directors or screenwriters just replicate what was in the original novel; don’t take any risks. That cannot be said about director/co-screenwriter Andrea Arnold (American Honey, Fish Tank) and co-screenwriter Olivia Hetreed’s (Girl With a Pearl Earring, Birds Like Us) adaptation of Emily Bronte’s novel, Wuthering Heights.
This 2 hour 10 minute film is not anything like I expected. Even those many out there who are familiar with this story first published in 1847 will be somewhat surprised about this adaptation of it.
Though the Bronte sisters are well known for their tales of romance this one is a little different. While there is some romance the focus is mostly gothic. Director Andrea Arnold understands that and focuses on that. The entire look and tone of the film is dark, foggy, grey, and at times vicious.
A farmer, Mr. Earnshaw (Paul Hilton – Lady MacBeth, Klimt), on a foggy and raining night, takes in a young boy of colour who seems to have been abandoned in the countryside. Doing the Christian thing, he tells his family they have a new member and will call him Heathcliff (Soloman Glave – Avengers: Infinity War). Right from the beginning the Earnshaw kids have different feelings towards the newest member of the household. The son, Hindley (Lee Shaw – first film), hates him and sees the young boy of colour as lesser than himself. While the younger daughter, Catherine (Shannon Beer – first film), is intrigued by the new youngster.
Heathcliff and Catherine begin spending a lot of time together. Riding horses and wandering through the vast fields. Also Catherine teaches the obviously uneducated young boy how to speak. Hindley is obviously jealous of any attention paid to Heathcliff and is brutal towards him. Thankfully, for Heathcliff, Hindley is sent away to school. Catherine and Heathcliff get even closer.
After three years pass, Mr. Earnshaw dies and now the returning Hindley is the master. Not good news for Heathcliff. Hindley returns with his new wife, Frances (Amy Wren – from television’s The Last Kingdom), and his abuse of Heathcliff picks up where he left off.
Catherine goes to stay with the Lintons and learns their genteel ways. Though she returns her relationship with Edgar Linton (James Northcote – The Imitation Game, Belle) continues. Something happens between Catherine and Heathcliff and he leaves.
A few years later, Heathcliff (James Howson – first film) returns to find that Catherine (Kaya Scoderlario – The Maze Runner, Moon) is married to Edgar. There is obviously still a strong attraction between Heathcliff and Catherine.
Originally released in 2010, this is a tale of mental, physical and emotional abuse. Not much attention is paid to Heathcliff’s backstory. Instead we take up the the story from the time the Earnshaws take him in. Arnold focuses on the bleak landscape and matches it with the stark nature of the behaviour of many of the characters involved in the story.
Plenty of guts shown by everyone involved in the film. You take a serious risk when you play with the retelling of a classic novel. There are good things and bad things about Arnold’s film. A strength is the cinematography by Robbie Ryan (The Favourite, Marriage Story), who manages to make the visuals strong, even at times overwhelming, but always bleakly eye catching. What I did not cling to was the lack of dialogue. It does go along with the dark tone, but for a film which is over two hours long it is a bit draining at times. Plus it assumes that we have all read the novel, which is not always a wise assumption.
Jealousy and hatred are the overwhleming emotions of the film. That too, at times, becomes tiresome. Though it does effectively depict how abuse is often passed down through generations.
You can stream the film on www.ovid.tv.