Wuthering Heights (NR)

Drama 142 January 18, 2009
By Simon Abrams
English filmmaker Andrea Arnold’s atypical, impressionistic approach to Emily Brontë is her adaptation’s main hook. As with Fish Tank and Red Road, Arnold’s last two feature-length dramas, the new Wuthering Heights is very much about the act of looking. The novel’s tempestuous plot is thus unmercifully filtered through the eyes of Heathcliff, a freed slave and newly adopted member of the Earnshaw family, here presented as a frustrated voyeur—and not at all the white Brit of previous adaptations. When he’s not brooding, Heathcliff is quietly spying on the wild Catherine Earnshaw (Shannon Beer) through cracks in doors or from a distance that’s all the more pronounced by cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s violently jiggly camera movements. Arnold makes the act of looking feel not just forbidden but also downright ugly. Heathcliff is constantly reminded that he can’t really get what he wants because he can’t interact with the Earnshaws on an equal social level, now because he’s not just poor and uncouth, as in earlier adaptations, but also black. Heathcliff performs a revelatory, wanton act of animal cruelty toward the end of the film, when, now older (and played by James Howson), he can’t flatter himself into thinking that the Earnshaws are secondary characters in his own story. This tragic denouement is reliant on the too easy bursting of Heathcliff’s narcissistic bubble. But because Arnold sympathizes with the tumultuous and finite perspective that defines her Heathcliff, she indulges rather than explores it. Because Arnold traps her viewers with Heathcliff’s murky version of events, there’s no room for enriching subtext in this version of Wuthering Heights because all the information we need is inscribed on the film’s glassy surface.
Coky Giedroyc Tom Hardy, Charlotte Riley, Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Lancashire, Burn Gorman, Rosalind Halstead, Rebecca Night, Tom Payne, Andrew Hawley, Kevin McNally Peter Bowker, Emily Brontë, Emily Brontë Radford Neville Independent Television (ITV)

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