British filmmaker Andrea Arnold deserves credit for originality and audacity with her radical remake of the classic novel “Wuthering Heights.”
But the Oscar-winning director/co-writer goes too far in her worthwhile efforts to strip away the frills and formality of the many previous adaptations. Best known for her gritty indie dramas “Fish Tank” and “Red Road,” Arnold becomes so focused on bringing the harsh wildness back to Emily Bronte's 1847 melodrama that she turns her version into a dank, muddy slog.
I've never been a fan of the Bronte sisters and their gothic romance stories. But director Cary Fukunaga brought such fresh energy to his 2011 adaption of Charlotte Bronte's “Jane Eyre” that I was willing to see Arnold's new vision of “Wuthering Heights,” playing this weekend at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
While Fukunaga tapped two of today's most promising young actors — Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender — to play the leads in his “Jane Eyre,” Arnold unfortunately stuck with her practice of casting first-timers for her “Wuthering Heights.” The inexperienced players just aren't equal to the task of traversing the story's unsettling emotional morass.
Set on an isolated farm on the moors of Northern England, “Wuthering Heights” opens as the lord of the manor, Mr. Earnshaw (Paul Hilton) takes in an abused and homeless youth whom he names Heathcliff.
The novel describes Heathcliff as a dark-skinned “exotic” of gypsy blood, but the role has traditionally been played by white actors. Arnold cast black actors Solomon Glave to play the adolescent Heathcliff and James Howson to portray him as a young man. It's a smart choice, even if it makes the story more about racial discrimination than class prejudice.
Mr. Earnshaw's racist son Hindley (Lee Shaw)fervently hates the newcomer. His daughter, Catherine (Shannon Beer as a youth, Kaya Scodelario of the British TV show “Skins” as a woman) develops an equally intense but much different relationship with Heathcliff. They are kindred spirits, spending their days running wild on the moors together. Their bond is close, exclusive and ambiguous; Catherine and Heathcliff aren't quite lovers but you couldn't call their relationship platonic or familial.