“Pure cinema” relies heavily upon the visual and the visceral. It is the environment as much as the story. In director Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, we are introduced to the Earnshaw family and young Heathcliff in a vast and wild English countryside buffeted by unceasing winds and framed and filmed with a loving eye. That eye is drawn to the natural, the untouched, the raw and earthy. It is the real world which is inhabited by these people. A dirty, mud-covered world where living is not easy, especially for an orphan found on the streets and taken in. Especially if that orphan is a young black boy, as is the case with this particular adaptation.
Distributor Oscilloscope Laboratories calls Wuthering Heights “a fresh and radically distinct take on Emily Brontë’s classic novel from one of contemporary cinema’s most unique voices, British filmmaker Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Red Road ). An epic love story spanning childhood well into the young adult years, the film follows Heathcliff (in Arnold ’s version, a black boy), who is taken in by a Yorkshire farmer, Earnshaw. Living in Earnshaw’s home on the windswept moors, Heathcliff develops a passionate relationship with the farmer’s teenage daughter, Cathy, inspiring the envy and mistrust of his son, Hindley. When Earnshaw passes away, the now-grown characters must finally confront the intense feelings and rivalries that have built up throughout their years together.”
In this visceral adaptation, filmmaker Arnold forgoes period frills and a sweeping score. Stripping Brontë’s story down to its roots of youthful passion, Arnold ’s approach emphasizes and restores the stark power of youth and primal nature for a contemporary audience. In Arnold ’s version, love is a rush of heart-stopping beauty, cruelty and impulsive acts.
Pure cinema is a filmmaker expressing themselves deftly through pure cinematic visual means. The strength of this particular adaptation rests heavily upon Robbie Ryan’s cinematography. Mr. Ryan has worked for Ms. Arnold before, including the previous films, Fish Tank and Red Road. Her camera work is personal and emotional, which works extremely well in Ms. Arnold’s scope of making an experience which works extremely hard to satisfy as many of the senses as is possible with film. A book which has been adapted dozens of times should not suffer from this type of cinematic rendering. But in a world where reading fiction is becoming less popular than playing video games, that might pose a slight problem. However, young audiences may also be more inspired to read the novel after seeing Ms. Arnold’s film. Something of a reverse take on the “Twilight” novels, or so one would hope. Still, some of the story may elude a few members of the audience who have not read the book.
This version tells an epic love story that spans childhood well into the young adult years, the film follows Heathcliff, a boy taken in by a benevolent Yorkshire farmer, Earnshaw. Living in Earnshaw’s home, Heathcliff develops a passionate relationship with the farmer’s teenage daughter, Catherine, inspiring the envy and mistrust of his son, Hindley. When Earnshaw passes away, the now-grown characters must finally confront the intense feelings and rivalries that have built up throughout their years together.
“I have never liked the idea of adaptations,” says Wuthering Heights’ writer-director Andrea Arnold. “A book is such a different language to film and they are often complete as they are, so I have really surprised myself by attempting one. And what a book to pick”, she wryly acknowledges. “It’s gothic, feminist, socialist, sadomasochistic, Freudian, incestuous, violent and visceral. Trying to melt all that together into a film is an ambitious and perhaps foolish task. Any attempt will never do the book justice. But it was like I had no choice. Once the idea was in my head I could not put it down. Even when things became very difficult I couldn’t let it go.”
Wuthering Heights is a beautifully filmed interpretation of Ms. Bronte’s classic story, strongly acted by a cast of relative unknowns and supporting actors, but the most standout of them all is Kaya Scodelario of the BBC version of Skins and the recent film Clash of the Titans.
Wuthering Heights opens in NY on October 5 and in LA October 12th, 2012.