Arnold's 'Wuthering Heights' wanders aimlessly across the moors
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 impoverished lad, but his own son resents this outsider, 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, and extraordinarily tough, working-class drama Fish Tank, has put her stamp on Emily Brontë'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. Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon and their storm-tossed backlot sets this is not.
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. Shannon Beer, whom Arnold has cast as the young Cathy Earnshaw, looks windblown and lost, while Solomon Glave, as the young Heathcliff, holds the screen with a quiet intensity. His older counterpart, James Howson, performs a credible segue into the adult Heathcliff, but Kaya Scodelario as the grown-up Catherine - gone off and wed to Edgar - looks nothing like Beer, and is too conventionally beautiful for the part.
Arnold's big move was to make Heathcliff black, which adds another dynamic to the classism that defined Brontë's book and all the other Wuthering Heights films that have come before. 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.