Director: Andrea Arnold
Starring: Kaya Scodelario, James Howson
Run time: 129 mins
Period dramas are supposed to be our forte. The genre is supposed to be what we excel at. So when one hears that the UK film council is making an adaptation of the classic English novel ‘Wuthering Heights,’ a high quality is expected. However, this latest attempt is a disastrous failure and all aspects of the film are to blame.
Andrea Arnold, the woman behind such overrated British dramas as ‘Red Road’ and “Fish Tank” is totally out of her depth with the rolling countryside of Yorkshire as her setting. She seems to have ignored the existence of a tripod in all her films, thinking the handheld look is part of her “original style” which only adds to the queasiness and depressingly slow pace as the camera wonders from meaningless shots of Heathcliff’s foot to a meandering wood louse.
The beginning is drawn out like a broken tap, dripping onto the screen for the thirsty viewer to lap up. Occasionally, a bit of plot is showered onto the audience only to be towled down with pretentious imagery. Two hours in, I was wondering how they would fit in the last dozen or so chapters into the final eight minutes. It turns out that one of the finest stories of English literature was neglected in favour of Arnold’s pondering over the meaning of Heathcliff’s neck, which the camera seemed to be fixated upon.
Simple elements of the film were also poorly done with perhaps the most unforgivable being the costumes. The choice of attire for the young Catherine was short, tight skirts for the outdoor scenes, reminiscent of what a girl might wear on a night out today. The sound design, despite what the Venice film festival think, is wholly self-indulgent with raindrops louder than voices and beetles sounding like rattle snakes. With the absence of much dialogue or soundtrack, our attention is clearly meant to be drawn to it.
Arnold chooses to use a cast of mostly untrained actors, hoping she can uncover the next famous British actor or actress. However, she has not found one in this film. Solomon Glave, the young Heathcliff, clearly under director’s orders, acts with so much restraint he drains the scenes of any possible subtext.
The film was a limp attempt considering the novel has so much substance and a terrific story. Her attempts to bring a traditional British grittiness clash horribly with the setting and the actors are mostly incapable of understanding their characters fully. This is one of the worst critically acclaimed films of the year.