‘Wuthering Heights’ reimagining falls flat

FRIDAY, NOV. 16, 2012

O, the misery!

In the wind and cold and wet of the Yorkshire moors, a young boy is taken in by a generous man. The man adopts the lad, but his own son resents this false sibling. The daughter, on the other hand, becomes smitten. And the strange boy likewise takes to her – they run off to their secret rock, they lock eyes soulfully.

So begins the doomed romance of Heathcliff and Catherine.

Andrea Arnold, the English filmmaker of the extraordinary working-class drama “Fish Tank,” has put her stamp on Emily Bronte’s 19th-century novel “Wuthering Heights,” but it’s a smudged and imperfect stamp, to be sure.

Shot with hand-held cameras, using natural light (and dim candlelight), deploying actors who mostly have never acted before, Arnold tries to bring a 21st-century microbudget realist aesthetic to the sweeping Gothic melodrama.

Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights” has its doom-laden moments of urgency and heartache, but vast swaths of the (longish) film just seem to meander across the muddy hills. Arnold’s big move was to make Heathcliff black, which adds another dynamic to the classism that defined Bronte’s book. It’s not color-blind casting, to be sure, because Heathcliff is assaulted with racial epithets by the bitter, raging Hindley.

Unfortunately, rather than imbue the film with more purposeful and relevant social commentary, Arnold’s decision just seems kind of gimmicky and odd.


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