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Wuthering Heights

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Wuthering Heights

Solomon Glaze and Shannon Beer in 'Wuthering Heights'

Sony Pictures Classics
The issue of adaptation could be presented as a masterclass; Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” alone has been subject to countless TV mini-series and three previous film adaptations. Tackling the book with co-screenwriter Olivia Hetreed, Andrea Arnold offers Wuthering Heights her own unique viewpoint while building upon Brontë’s earlier implications of race in the relationship between Healthcliff and Catherine, along with financial differences.
Starting on a dark, dank night on the English moors, Mr. Earnshaw (Paul Hilton) returns home one evening with a young boy named Heathcliff (Solomon Grave). While Earnshaw’s son Hindley (Lee Shaw) looks down on the addition to their family in an attempt to “be Christian,” Earshaw’s daughter Cathy (Shannon Beer) becomes enamored with the exotic boy. As he grows and tends to the moors on the Wuthering Heights estate, Heathcliff and Cathy grow closer and -- in a much more overt way than Brontë could ever show -- more intimate as they mature. As the two grow closer after Hindley is sent off to college; Heathcliff and Catchy share a brief period of being mildly tolerated, which isn’t saying much, as a platonic couple by the Earshaws. But when Mr. Earshaw suddenly dies, prompting Hindley’s return and transformation into the head of the household, Heathcliff is forced back into indentured servitude.

Inevitably, the Linton family enters the picture when Heathcliff and Cathy sneak out one evening to spy on how the upper class lives. She is caught and he flees. When Cathy returns to the Heights with the Lintons, she’s now visibly changed, disgusted by the squalor of the moors. Now going by the more proper name of Catherine, she ignores Heathcliff, developing feelings instead for Edgar Linton. Heathcliff grows furious as he overhears the admission, bolting from his adoptive home into a storm -- only to return years later and take revenge on his “family.”

Arnold even treats the return of Heathcliff with a newfound wealth -- fancier clothing, freely wasting money --that, like in Bronte’s novel, is never outright explained. Heathcliff’s own return is just as mysterious: emerging from the fog like a well-dressed wraith, eager to show off his money and cunning. Arnold seems to go the same route as Alfred Hitchcock when it comes to Brontë; she claimed during the film’s premiere at Sundance she had never read the book until she worked on the screenplay.

Inevitably, the Linton family enters the picture when Heathcliff and Cathy sneak out one evening to spy on how the upper class lives. She is caught and he flees. When Cathy returns to the Heights with the Lintons, she’s now visibly changed, disgusted by the squalor of the moors. Now going by the more proper name of Catherine, she ignores Heathcliff, developing feelings instead for Edgar Linton. Heathcliff grows furious as he overhears the admission, bolting from his adoptive home into a storm -- only to return years later and take revenge on his “family.”

Despite the numerous adaptations of “Wuthering Heights,” Andrea Arnold presents the an incredibly strong interpretation of the story, capturing the smoldering sexual frustration and class drama that Brontë put to paper. Much like her 2009 Fish Tank, Arnold doesn’t shy from potentially awkward relationships or social taboos. Casting most of her younger roles from first-time actors, she chooses to go with a black Heathcliff (Grave as the younger and James Howson as the returning version). Even her Catherine, played by Kaya Scodelario, is a relative unknown--keen viewers may know her best as Effy from the UK “mature” teen drama Skins.

Arnold’s realization of Wuthering Heights is a visual delight. Most of that comes from Robbie Ryan, who also shot Fish Tank, and his spacious yet foreboding treatment of the moors and how the upper-class Lintons live. Arnold is adept at capturing the awkwardness of a budding relationship. She’s mastered how to convey the helplessness that makes a tale like Wuthering Heights so hopeful, despite the heartbreaking inevitable end.

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