[Review] – Wuthering Heights

19 Oct

Title: Wuthering Heights
Year: 2012
Director: Andrea Arnold
Writers: Andrea Arnold and Olivia Hetreed, based on the novel by Emily Brontë
Starring: Kaya Scodelario, James Howson, Oliver Milburn
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 129 min
IMDb Rating: 6.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Metacritic: 74

Okay, time to tell you guys about a connection I made before watching this film. Last year I saw Cary Fukunaga‘s brilliant Jane Eyre adaptation, which I gave an A to and landed at 27th in my year-end list. Jane Eyre, of course, adapted from the classic Charlotte Brontë novel and starring Michael Fassbender as Rochester (my 18th favorite lead male performance from 2011), an actor who also starred in Fish Tank in 2009, the stunning, Criterion-approved film from Andrea Arnold who now directs Wuthering Heights, an adaptation of Emily Brontë‘s just-as-iconic novel. That whole connection, by the way, means nothing, I just thought I might as well share it.

Or maybe it does mean something, something because of the way that I just absolutely fell in love with this film just as much as I did with that other Brontë adaptation from last year. I really was taken aback by how brilliant this fresh approach to the classic novel was. The project had been kicking around since early 2008, with people like Peter Webber and John Maybury attached as directors, Abbie Cornish and Natalie Portman having toyed around with the idea of being Catherine and Michael Fassbender and Ed Westwick entertaining the notion of playing Heathcliff at one time or another. That was until Ms. Arnold took reigns of the project in early 2010 and built it up her way.

She got Kaya Scodelario, the stunning Brit who plays Effy on Skins, to play Catherine, a far more age-appropriate casting choice than what’s seen in most adaptations. For the role of Heathcliff she went in a very different direction, not only did she, alongside casting director Gail Stevens, hold open call auditions for the role, but the role was won by James Howson, an unknown making his film debut. That’s noticeable not because Mr. Howson would be making his debut, but rather because he would be the first black actor to ever play the role in an adaptation. In the actual book, by the way, Heathcliff is a dark-skinned Gypsy, a man who’s clearly not white, so it’s the dozens of other directors who got that choice wrong, not Ms. Arnold.

That’s just one of the many things Andrea Arnold has done to make her take on the classic source material so distinctive. Yes, she stays faithful to the book in the sense that the film is obviously still this epic love story at the bottom of it all with more than a fair share of revenge, but she has this gorgeously stylized and naturalistic approach going on to really get to the bottom of those emotions that just really won me over. This is a film that gets to the emotions at hand not with the sweeping romantic story but with the overall mood and the imagery that it so beautifully casts upon every frame.

I loved that approach. On the one hand because this is a book that has been done to death in the usual ways and it’s good that we get something different, and on the other hand because independently of that fact this new approach just plain works. It’s just utterly beautiful and infinitely engaging, the kind of movie that manages to sort of take away that holy status of the source material and strip it down to its raw essence that’s just bursting with passion. It slows down for us to really get the opportunity to get into this mud-soaked, gritty reality it proposes and I was just honestly moved by the boldness of its realization.

Of course if you already were familiar with Ms. Arnold’s work you may have expected something like this in the first place; she’s one of those filmmakers that lets her visuals move along the narrative just as much, if not more so, than the actual dialogue being spoken. And by stripping down to such bare essence the pages of Emily Brontë’s classic we get some really interesting stuff, we cut out all the melodrama and get to some really raw emotions at hand about life and love.

I haven’t checked out interviews with Ms. Arnold so I don’t know exactly what got her to go with this approach. Maybe she felt that people knew this story super well by now so she could take on a more abstract path around it, I don’t know, I just know that it works. It works partly because the cinematography provided by Robbie Ryan, her frequent collaborator, is pretty breathtaking. The first forty minutes or so of the movie as you get the child actors playing out Catherine and Heathcliff’s early days are basically silent, and the words you do get are super sparse and could have honestly not been there and the effect would have been the same.

This is the kind of film that you feel more than anything. That’s why it really is so awesome that it’s stripped down, not to mention that it allows you to see these familiar characters under a slightly different light, to see Catherine as fickle and kind of wily, to see Heathcliff as this bad-tempered man with a hint of violence to him. Every emotion these characters are experiencing you feel to the bone in this film and I was just absolutely riveted as I realized that it was having this effect on me, that it was getting me to understand the passion and the suffering of these iconic characters better than any other film adaptation ever had.

I was honestly spellbound by the experience of watching Wuthering Heights. A film that’s meant to be felt, one that’s entirely faithful to the book and yet entirely something else at the same time. It won’t be for everyone, but you just have to give it to Andrea Arnold for making it feel somewhat voyeuristic with her approach to this timeless tale because of how close she gets us, both literally and figuratively, to these characters, and you have to give it to Ms. Scodelario and Mr. Howson for the intensity with which they portrayed just that. It’s a beautiful and powerful film that really shouldn’t be missed for the world.

Grade: A


One Response to “[Review] – Wuthering Heights”

  1. youjivinmeturkey October 19, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    I’ve Yet To See This Version.
    I Own BOTH The Laurence Olivier Version AND The Ralph Fiennes Version.
    I’d Like To At Least Give This New One The Ole Once-Over, Ya Know?!

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