Andrea Arnold brings new life to the classic tale of Wuthering Heights. A sense of neo-feminist reimagining dominates Arnold’s work best exemplified by Fish Tank (2009) but wholly evident throughout Wuthering Heights, playing exclusively at the downtown Sundance Cinemas Houston.
Just look at the many film adaptations of WH and how they proceed from dark to even darker. You could hardly say light to dark since this classic novel by Emily Bronte, full of suffering and pain and unrequited love, could never be called light. Compare Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon in the 1939 version with their glossy good looks, and then a more earthy interpretation from Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche (1992). Those are just two of the many versions. Arnold finds beauty with muted low contrast Earth tones that highlight velvety blacks and blues of capes and coats and at the same time can’t keep the camera from observing whippings, beatings, and more than one dead animal. This latest and possible the most accurate to the 18th century WH quietly watches Heathcliff and Catherine first as children and then as adults with the same intensity it observes the changing of seasons and windswept dales.
Arnold makes a point of casting Heathcliff as black but still having the dignity of being the adopted son of a landowning family. When the paterfamilias dies Heathcliff suffers discrimination and other humiliations and is ordered to live in the barn by the new master. Arnold seems to imbue the relations with a kind of Dardenne Brothers reality, which means that even when the characters are happy they’re miserable. Ghosts are suggested by the constant cruelty to animals and maybe a falling feather from a passing bird. Wuthering Heights has always been a keeper but Arnold’s version gets under your skin and leaves dirt embedded in your nails.
– Michael Bergeron