Movie Review – Massacre of a classic

2012-05-18 12:48

Film: Wuthering Heights (Ster-Kinekor)
Director: Andrea Arnold
Featuring: James Howson, Kaya Scodelario, Lee Shaw and James Northcote
Rating: 4/10

What sounds like the wind relentlessly whistling around the cast in this version of Emily Brontë’s classic novel is, in fact, the author dragged screaming from her eternal rest by the filmmaker’s botch job of her work.

At first glance, you might think director Andrea Arnold has the right idea – she casts a black Heathcliff. Probably much truer to the original than many of the other dozen or so film and TV adaptations that have been made.

But Arnold loses the plot somewhere on the misty moors that Emily Brontë wrote so menacingly and so beautifully about.

She gets so ensnared by the look of her film that she fails to get the characterisation right.

The obsessive love between Heathcliff and Cathy isn’t properly drawn, neither is Hindley’s resentment.

As for the doomed puppy love of Isabella, well I just wanted to slap her, and Heathcliff himself lacks his usual dangerous, sadistic charm – he just feels, well, in need of a good shrink.

Newcomer James Howson takes on the eternally damaged Heathcliff. What a challenge for an untried actor.

He hopes to rely on hooded and wounded looks, but he lacks the raw passion of the original character, and that of the host of actors who have gone before him, the likes of Laurence Olivier, Timothy Dalton and Ralph Fiennes.

Catherine is played by Kaya Scodelario, a veteran compared to her co-star, Howson, but still far too green for this demanding role.

She is capricious, cunning and difficult. She’s the kind of girl who pulls the wings off flies, and this is why she and Heathcliff are such a destructive force together.

They are two halves of a whole.

Scodelario can’t manage to convey any of this and, in the end, her deadpan Catherine is just irritating.

With the inexperienced cast running wildly up and down the moors, the director concerns herself with appearances, with giving the Earnshaws an authentically grubby look that they might well have had without running water and a farm in muddy England to run.

She shows rough interiors, grubby faces and endless shots of Brontë’s beloved moors, trying to turn them into a character. Something the author did effortlessly, but which this filmmaker can’t get right at all.

Arnold, an Oscar winner for Best Short Film in 2003 for Wasp and the Bafta for Outstanding British Film in 2010 for Fish Tank, doesn’t live up to her potential as a filmmaker with Wuthering Heights.

It is a great shame that a woman of her talents should be so poorly equipped to recreate Brontë’s world. Poor Brontë, especially after her sister Charlotte’s book, Jane Eyre, was so magnificently and sensitively reimaged last year by young Cary Fukunaga, with Mia Waskowski as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Mr Rochester.

When I first read Wuthering Heights, it towered in my imagination and I am sure it does in every reader’s mind.

That’s why any film adaptation has to be done with due respect to the book.

I am hoping to completely erase this film from my memory. I hope Brontë can find a way to quiet her soul and rest again.

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