Writer-director Andrea Arnold made "Red Road" and
I saw the film, a noble mixed bag full of sharp objects, a few weeks ago. What I remember most clearly about it now is its paradoxical dankness. Photographed like a breathless nature documentary in windy, swampy, muddy North Yorkshire by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, who has worked on all of Arnold's feature-length and short films to date, this "Wuthering Heights" exists on a deglamorized planet far, far away from the best-known film adaptation of the story to date, William Wyler's 1939 showcase for Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier.
Heathcliff, the novel's Gypsy-blooded "exotic," is no longer simply that. He is black, a Liverpool resident of the streets adopted by Mr. Earnshaw (Paul Hilton) and relocated to the moors and the hostile stares of Wuthering Heights. Arnold's casting — Solomon Glave plays young Heathcliff, a boy, then played a few years older by James Howson — shortcuts and crystallizes the 19th century outsider's angst.
As Heathcliff falls into a charged friendship with Cathy (Shannon Beer, followed by
The younger actors leave the scene when Cathy becomes engaged to the wealthy Edgar Linton (James Northcote), sending Heathcliff off on his own path to become a very different version of himself.
Arnold's interpretation is taciturn, often entirely without dialogue, though it becomes increasingly conventional in its scene structure as it goes and as the actors hand off the key roles. In reality it's a bit of a slog. The gulf between the cast's first-time film actors and their more seasoned cohorts is considerable. The young performers have their moments, but they're rarely fully felt or dramatically incisive. The movie plays like an idea for a "Wuthering Heights" adaptation.
And yet parts of it stick with you. As adventurous concepts go, this one travels in the exact opposite direction of the new
To say nothing of its frippery count.