Gimme moor – Wuthering Heights review

Wuthering Heights – Starring Kaya Scodelario, James Howson, and James Northcote. Directed by Andrea Arnold. Rated MA. By Jess Lomas.

Wuthering Heights plays the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 19, 2012. It arrives in Australian cinemas October 11, 2012.

Based on the classic novel by Emily Brontë, director Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights has attempted to give us an edgy adaptation of a well worn story. This bold retelling of the passionate and obsessive relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine achieves top marks when it comes to visual style, but outstays its welcome and perhaps isn’t as modernist as it seeks to be.

Taken in as a poor boy by the Earnshaw family, Heathcliff (Solomon Glave and then James Howson) clings to his foster sister Cathy (Shannon Beer, later Kaya Scodelario) and as the two grow up their friendship develops into an unhealthy reliance. When Cathy accepts a marriage proposal from the wealthy Edgar Linton (James Northcote), Heathcliff disappears in the night, fuelled by hurt, anger and betrayal. When he returns some years later, older and intent on claiming what he believes to be his, his confrontation with Cathy will see their fanatical love peak.

Arnold (Fish Tank) and Olivia Hetreed (Girl with a Pearl Earring) have delivered a script which strives to deviate from the usual period retelling. Just as Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice gave us a more realistic Bennett house, gone here are the squeaky clean manors, perfectly lit rooms, and spotless costumes (at least until Cathy marries into money). Instead, their Wuthering Heights is not only bleak but dirty, muddy, and truly a miserable place. It’s hard not to laugh when Cathy questions Heathcliff upon his return, asking why he would want to leave this, gesturing to the surrounding moors, depicted brilliantly by cinematographer Robbie Ryan as rough, cold, and unforgiving.

Most notably in this film, Heathcliff has been transformed into a black character, and while dealing with prejudice against his economic situation, the majority of hatred directed at him is because of his race. When Healthcliff and Cathy transform to their older selves, replaced by new actors, the effect is quite jarring, almost as much as the sporadic inclusion of several swear words into the otherwise expected dialogue. While viewed as an attempt to be shocking, its inconsistent use simply made it stand out for all the wrong reasons.

With some beautiful performances, a non-existent soundtrack, and a fresh and youthful approach to a now 165 year old story, Wuthering Heights is a laborious yet rewarding trip to the Yorkshire moors. While it will struggle to resonate with mainstream audiences, period enthusiasts are encouraged to seek it out.


Wuthering Heights plays the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 19, 2012. It arrives in Australian cinemas October 11, 2012.

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