Sunday, 20 November 2011

Wuthering Heights - Andrea Arnold (2011)

  1. Wuthering Heights is a dour Andrea Arnold adaptation of Emily Brontë's classic English A'-level text.
  2. Arnold has made two excellent films: Red Road and Fish Tank. This is, if not quite a fully-fledged turkey, certainly nowhere near as good as either of them.
  3. During the 80s Arnold appeared as the foxy roller-skater, Dawn, on the children's Saturday morning show Number 73. If you've ever wondered why when anyone says 'Maidstone' you mentally append the word 'Kent' you know who to blame. If you were born around 1980 and a have a spare half hour for a disorientating dose of nostalgia click here
  4. Arnold's characters inhabit alienating spaces, they stalk across patches of wasteland or industrial estates, argue in car parks or dance in abandoned council flats. If you ever run out of petrol and find yourself trudging down the hard shoulder of a motorway, entertain yourself by imagining you're in an exciting Andrea Arnold adaptation of Rebecca.
  5. For the first hour or so of this overlong film the young Heathcliff (Solomon Glave) and Catherine (Shannon Beer) chase one another over the Pennines. No council estates here, just birds, beetles, rocks, mud, grass, rain and sky. And did I mention birds and rain and mud? And rain? After a while you may start wishing someone would introduce an episode of Rentaghost, just to leaven the mix.
  6. Unlike most adaptations this one concentrates on the childhood sections of the book, apparently to make Heathcliff's grief more poignant and believable. For Arnold cinema is the closest thing to sharing someone else's experience. Stuff like the uniquely isolating feeling of deafening wind in your ears, which no other medium could reproduce effectively. So during the extra-long first half she's trying generate sensuous memories that will tie us to Heathcliff and Cathy in the second half...
  7. ...only it doesn't quite work, and she has to keep introducing flashbacks to remind us of how the first half felt. Plus Kaya Scodelario and James Howson who play the older Heathcliff and Cathy don't either look, or seem, like the same people as their younger counterparts.
  8. In forensic science circles necrophilia is known as 'cold-cocking'.
  9. No-one in this film seems to care about getting soaked in the rain - despite the fact that keeping warm and dry must have been a life and death-type priority in 19th Century Yorkshire. Perhaps we're being invited to consider true love's elemental qualities. But you will probably spend most of the film thinking 'will someone please just shut that fucking door'.
  10. To be fair Wuthering Heights isn't an easy book to adapt, not least because the emotions it describes aren't realistic. In the novel they're smothered under layers of 19th Century story paraphernalia, framing narratives, eavesdropping, discovered texts and so on. Arnold has removed all this, she's also removed the dream sequence, and the gothic qualities of the house itself. She has removed the bathwater, but also the baby. In fact, Kate Bush's interpretation of the novel is far more faithful not just to its melodrama, but also its irony and intelligence. This film closes, not with Kate Bush, but Mumford and Sons, and so reveals its true sensibility. Like them, it proves you can strip back to the essentials and still end up sounding pretentious.


  1. Hurrah! I'm glad someone else agrees Mumford is suckish.

    "She has removed the bathwater, but also the baby." is great writing BTW

  2. How gratifying, thanks. How's Australia?