When Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley immediately downgrades Heathcliff from family member to slave. Then, Catherine begins spending more time with the well-to-do neighbors, the Lintons. When she becomes engaged to their milquetoast son Edgar Linton (Jonathan Powell as a youth, James Northcote as an adult), Heathcliff leaves the farm.
He returns a few years later flush with a mysterious fortune and anxious to win back Catherine and exact revenge on Hindley. Heathcliff also begins a destructive romance with her sister-in-law, Isabella (Nichola Burley).
Arnold's first-time actors are only able to effectively capture the wildness of Heathcliff and Catherine, but the filmmaker makes it clear that the story's animal fierceness is really the only part that interests her. Instead of becoming enamored of fancy frocks and bodice-ripping love scenes, she obsessively focuses on spiders building webs, feral-looking dogs slinking around and doomed rabbits trying to escape snares.
She pares away the florid dialogue to the point that the characters hardly do more than grunt, exchange loaded glances and drop a few f-bombs and other curses. (The film is not rated, but the language would earn it an R.) She forgoes the typical musical score and lets the shrieking wind and other natural sounds provide the soundtrack.
Likewise, Arnold eschews artificial light in favor of gas lamps and candle glow, which gives the movie a realistic and appropriate gloom, but some of the interior scenes are so dark you can't even tell which characters are in them.
The director eagerly divests “Wuthering Heights” of the stifling artifice of the costume drama only to become enslaved by the artifice of the atmospheric indie drama.
— Brandy McDonnell