Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights needs no introduction and it's on itself a thought provoking novel. So why did Andrea Arnold's film adaptation cause such a stir?
The Brontë sisters are famed for exploring quite strong social, racial and sexual issues within their work. Emily Brontë is no different, so there is no surprise in the fact that in Wuthering Heights the love triangle is about class issues and the fact women at the time wanted to 'marry up' the ladder - a good marriage could set them and their family up for life. Bearing in mind the controversy, it's really no wonder that this particular novel has had so many incarnations in film and theatre. And let's not even mention the fact that it's beautifully written.
Andrea Arnold's version entered Cannes Festival last year causing some commotion for many reasons. The most noticeable of them, perhaps, was that she had turned Brontë's Hispanic gypsy anti-hero, Heathcliff, into a black runaway slave and by default made the issue a racial rather than a class one. The other point of conflict was Arnold's free and strong use of swear words, which, without a shadow of a doubt, would have made Emily Brontë lower her head in shame. And not even get me started in the animal killing scenes that had a non-pet or animal lover like me cringing.
I could see all these in the film. And I could understand why the most puritan of Brontë fans might have been a little disheartened. However, I think Arnold did something really good in her film adaptation: she stripped it down of the frills and concentrated in the rawness of it all - landscape, emotions, obsessions and abuse. Whenever I watch period drama, they are all about pretty dresses, gorgeous manors and majestic horses. But the reality of the times was quite another. Plagues, lack of hygiene, rats, dirt and mud were all part of everyday life back then. Cities like London had the sewer running on the streets. Yet, all of this seems to be conveniently forgotten in cinematographic takes. Well, in this movie, it doesn't!
There is some beautiful footage of details in the landscape and within the scenes. My favourite is when an young Heathcliff and Cathy are bare horse riding the moors - the details of her hair and dress flying to the wind, his hands caressing the horse, the snippets of skin whenever the wind blows her hair out of the way... Beautifully done.
The only thing I would fault would be the change of actors at a later stage in the film. It looks unrealistic to have only Cathy and Heathcliff replaced when most of the other characters remained the same. Not only that, but quite frankly, I think the earlier duo was doing a really good job. I also couldn't see why in Cannes James Howson (older Heathcliff) and Kaya Scodelario (older Cathy) received all the praise, when Solomon Glave (younger Heathcliff) and Shannon Beer (younger Cathy) are not only responsible for the stronger scenes, but seemed to be in it a lot more. But hey-ho, what do I know? I'm no film buff.
One in all, I think Andrea Arnold succeeded in making her film as raw, unsettling and thought provoking as the original novel, even thought any film adaptation of Wuthering Heights would never be as good and complex as the book itself. But beware: it's not appropriate for anyone under 15.
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