Andrea Arnold is a wildly original filmmaker. Her movies "Red Road" and "Fish Tank" are unlike almost anything else being made today.
So it came as a surprise when the English director signed on to make yet another adaptation of Emily Bronte's novel "Wuthering Heights." But the serious skeptics need not have worried. Arnold's first move was to replace the relatively well-known actors cast -- Gemma Arterton and Ed Westwick -- with unknowns. James Howson, who plays the adult Heathcliff, had never acted before.
Using unknowns is just one way Arnold ensures her films, despite their grand themes, remain naturalistic. "Wuthering Heights," despite its melodramatic source material, is no exception. This is the earthiest "Wuthering Heights" ever made. It emphasizes the gritty environment of the moors that so infused the novel and its strange characters. The near-silence of the beginning might puzzle viewers who associate the grand love story with big declarations. But patient watchers will be rewarded with an ultimately overwhelming experience that does great justice to a great book.
|3 out of 4 stars|
|Stars: Kaya Scodelario, James Howson, Solomon Glave, Shannon Beer|
|Director: Andrea Arnold|
|Rated: Not rated|
|Running time: 129 minutes|
Solomon Glave is the young Heathcliff, a homeless misfit adopted by the Yorkshire farmer Earnshaw (Paul Hilton). Earnshaw's daughter Catherine (Shannon Beer) immediately takes a shine to the quiet, rough boy. Theirs will be a love to last beyond the grave. This time, the doomed romance is told -- really, shown -- from the point of view of Heathcliff. The first time he gets onto a horse, we see the ride from his perspective. It's mostly an intoxicating view of Catherine's luscious hair.
Earnshaw tries to civilize Heathcliff, here cast as a black boy. But Heathcliff is a wild one. He must be forcefully led to the water for his baptism. He obviously doesn't know what's going on and senses only danger. The deed finally done, he escapes the church and its water, running out into the rain to get a more serious and less holy drenching.
Howson gives us a richer, more refined Heathcliff who is almost transformed. But not quite. He turns out to be wild at his core -- as is the very English Catherine, who has married a rich neighbor. Heathcliff doesn't know she did it not out of love, but to gain resources with which to better Heathcliff's lot in life. He returns for revenge, which he most certainly gets -- but at the loss of his own troubled soul.
Arnold always gets incredible performances out of her unknown actors. Here, she -- and they -- make an old story refreshingly new again.