I had this film version of Wuthering Heights on my wish list since I heard about it last year. I finally saw the DVD at Walmart and didn't hesitate buying it. I have a love/hate relationship with Wuthering Heights but there was no way I was going to miss out on watching this latest version.
Before we get to it, in order to compare the film to the movie there must be spoilers. If you care about the spoilers of a nearly 200 year old book that you haven't read by now, then read no further.
Wuthering Heights starts at the end (of the film) but quickly flashes back to the beginning. Young Heathcliff (Solomon Glave) is brought by Mr Earnshaw (Paul Hilton) to the farm known as Wuthering Heights. Earnshaw found him on the streets of London and out of "Christian kindness" brings him to Yorkshire to live with his family. Let me set the scene: Wuthering Heights is a glorified barn, the eldest son Hindley (Lee Shaw) looks like an escapee from a penal colony in a dystopian future world, not one person looks happy to see the new arrival. The film implies that Heathcliff is a runaway slave. He barely speaks English other than a few swears. He's obviously scared but hides it behind a defiance that's endearing. You can't help but root for the kid.
I always have conflicting feelings regarding Heathcliff. I start out loving him and end up hating him. Director Andrea Arnold does a few things to keep the viewer in the Team Heathcliff camp. First, the whole movie is told from his point of view, and the film ends just before Heathcliff becomes The Worst. She also does something interesting by making Heathcliff black. It adds another layer of differences between him and the Earnshaws.
Soon Mr Earnshaw's daughter Cathy (Shannon Beer) befriends Heathcliff. Cathy is a little ruffian who runs around the moors in pants, wrestles in the dirt with Heathcliff, and curses at Hindley. I really liked her. Heathcliff falls for her right away. She might not be aware of it just then but the viewer knows by the way he looks at her hair or her calves. Does he love her because she's the only one who's nice to him or because hormones? I don't know. There is barely any dialogue in the film. This has the effect of making the dialogue extremely emotional when someone does say something. Emotion is expressed through looks and camera angles. You know Heathcliff thinks of Cathy when he sees a feather, when people are sad they lie in the heather in the rain.
|Just lying in the heather, with my feelings.|
Things get bad for Heathcliff after the death of Mr Earnshaw. Hindley becomes an even bigger asshole and Cathy discovers the Linton family, a wealthy family with a boy her age, Edgar. Cathy likes the life the Lintons: cultured, mannered, rich. Heathcliff sees her change and doesn't like it. Edgar asks her to marry him and she accepts. With nothing to keep him there, Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights.
Years later, he returns a handsome gentleman with money (James Howson). Cathy (Kaya Scodelario) realizes she's made a huge mistake, but you can't unring a bell. She's stuck with Edgar. That doesn't mean she doesn't try to have them both. Cathy and Heathcliff make sexy eyes at each other whenever they are together. He makes it no secret that he'd take her in a minute if they were ever alone. Edgar is no fool and sends his sister Isabella to babysit, something he'll regret later. Even in Isabella's presence there is passionate hand clutching and hair tugging. The sexual tension is 100%.
The film ends just after Cathy dies of Not Getting Her Own Way and Heathcliff goes bonkers and dry humps her corpse. Readers of Wuthering Heights know this is not the worst thing he is capable of doing. In this version, he is pretty awful to Isabella and while he gets revenge on Hindley, he leaves Hindley's son, Hareton, alone. There is no mention of Edgar or the children. The viewer is left to decide what happens next. Maybe Heathcliff turns Wuthering Heights into a home for orphaned children? Good, kind Heathcliff, taking care of children.
I enjoyed this version of Wuthering Heights even though it left me feeling depressed, but it's Wuthering Heights so….yeah. It's beautifully shot. Everything is windswept and rainy. Every frame tells a story. There is no musical score. The wind is the score and it is perfect. No manipulating with violins. Emily Bronte's words don't need it anyway.
Don't expect kittens and rainbows. It's dark and violent but I'm glad I watched it. It's an excellent addition to the Bronte canon.
For my thoughts on the PBS 2009 version of Wuthering Heights, click here.