Wuthering Heights is the story of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, two characters tortured by their love for one another. There have been many adaptations of this literary classic but Andrea Arnold has stripped the story to the bare bones and centred on the tragic relationship of Heathcliff and Catherine. Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel is considered by many as one of the greats in English literature but I believe with Arnold’s 2011 adaptation will come a new audience to this British classic.
Lucy Pardee must be praised for her casting of Shannon Beer and Solomon Glave as the young Catherine and Heathcliff in the first half of the film. Solomon Glave gives a first class performance bringing a new dimension to the role as a black actor. The dialogue for the film is sparse but Glave truly conveys Heathcliff’s pain and struggle as a black child growing up in a strongly Christian family in North Yorkshire. Arnold portrays the bond between the two children in an incredibly sensitive way. There is a scene following Heathcliff being whipped at the command of Catherine’s brother Hindley, where Catherine licks Heathcliff’s wounds. This scene is possibly the most moving of the entire film demonstrating the immaterial bond and love between the two characters.
I wish the same praise could be given to Kaya Scodelario playing adult Catherine, previously known for her character as Effy in E4’s skins. After the blossoming character of Catherine that Shannon Beer formerly provides, I could not help but feel a little let down by Scodelario’s performance. Although undoubtedly beautiful in her role, it is difficult to engage with her as Catherine as she heavily relies on dialogue, of which there is little. Alternatively, James Howson is credible in his acting debut as the adult Heathcliff but once again is outshone by his younger self. Howson neglects to bring forward the cruelness in Heathcliff’s character of which we see flickers of earlier in the film, which is fundamental in the demise of the love story.
The real beauty of the film comes from the panoramic views of the Yorkshire countryside, showing the bleakness and splendour of the setting. Arnold shows nature at the forefront, and uses the moors to enhance the raw temperament of the film. Although we are given hints that we are watching a period drama the focus is not on the extravagant costumes or grand country houses that is so common in other exponents of the genre. It could easily be set in modern day, as an audience we are not bombarded with the excessive plot provided within the novel. Arnold must be applauded for her adaptation for the ways in which she has attempted to show the brutality of love by keeping the union of Catherine and Heathcliff at the heart of the film. I would not recommend this as a feel good film but the dark and emotive performances alongside the striking use of nature and scenery make Wuthering Heights stand out amongst the many previous adaptations of Emily Brontë’s English classic.