Proving to be one of the most interesting of contemporary British film directors, Andrea Arnold brings a smart, unusual take on Emily Brontë's much-filmed classic novel that is not only faithful to the original text but also stunningly contemporary in its refusal to embellish or bowdlerize the love story between the daughter of a Yorkshire farmer (Shannon Beer as a teenager and Kaya Scodelario as a grownup) and the foundling he adopts (Solomon Glave as a teenager and James Howson as a grownup).

     Central to Ms. Arnold's stunning result is the ravishingly sensualist treatment of Catherine and Heathcliff's passions, with the Yorkshire landscapes becoming a fully-fledged character through Robbie Ryan's stunning, skin-deep cinematography, so tactile you can even smell the damp, the rain, the sweat, the wind. But equally as important is Ms. Arnold's decision to cross the color line and make Heathcliff black for the first time in the many adaptations of the novel; Ms. Brontë's novel always mentioned the character's dark skin and gypsy-like appearance, and while color is certainly irrelevant to both Catherine and Heathcliff, it is the heart of the matter for most everyone else. The sense of class distinction and class struggle that always shone through the novel and is a central tenet of most British cinema gains here a whole new dimension through the introduction of this disquieting element of racism, whether open in the case of Catherine's brother Hindley (Lee Shaw) or more disguised by new neighbors the Lintons.

     It's not the only startling choice about Ms. Arnold and her co-screenwriter Olivia Hetreed's take on the novel. Without letting go of is raw, heartfelt romanticism, the film also paints the doomed lovers as teenagers forced to grow up too fast and who have never grown up into their emotions, while Heathcliff, especially in the quiet, feverish rages both Mr. Glave and Mr. Howson give him, becomes a sort of prophet of doom or avenging angel, whose mere presence awakens an irrational sense of danger in everyone he meets. Told through a series of pregnant ellipses in a juggernaut of emotional and visual abandon, following nature's lead visually and narratively, Wuthering Heights confirms Ms. Arnold's talent as someone with a unique capability to subvert and rebuild the English traditions of the social picture and the period drama - both of which this film is without never really acknowledging so.

Kaya Scodelario, James Howson; Solomon Glave, Shannon Beer; Steve Evets; Nichola Barley.
     Director, Andrea Arnold; screenplay, Ms. Arnold, Olivia Hetreed, from a story by Ms. Hetreed and the novel by Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights; cinematography (color, processing by DeLuxe), Robbie Ryan; designer, Helen Scott; costumes, Steven Noble; editor, Nicolas Chaudeurge; producers, Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae, Kevin Loader (Ecosse Films for Filmfour and The UK Film Council in association with Goldcrest Film Production, Screen Yorkshire and Hanway Films), UK, 2010, 128 minutes.
     Screened: DVD screener, Lisbon, May 5th 2012. 


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