Wuthering Heights is not a romance, and I shudder to think of all the previous film adaptations that have treated it as such. Arnold’s Wuthering Heights is both a departure from the romanticized adaptations of the past, and a welcome return to the cruel and unflinching narrative of modern Gothic, perfected with a stark realism evident in Red Road and Fish Tank.

Arnold’s Wuthering Heights is dramatically wild and viscerally raw, lacking in any sense of pretention or sentiment. This is no romantic panorama with a sweeping orchestra and half-whispered confessions of love. It is crippling isolation and graceless elegance, tempered by the harshness of reality. The score is the sound of wind howling over rocky barrens, the squelch of damp earth, the tune of hopeless birds. The light is inartificial and sparse, pervading lonely corners of empty rooms with peeling wall plaster, and framing silhouettes fleeing into the darkness of the moors. We are not watching a film – we are viewing brief, intimate glimpses of an unsettling story, a series of tone poems linked together by suspicion and suggestion: the manic tapping of a tree branch at the window (echoes of “Heathcliff, it’s me, your Cathy!”), nervous horses pawing at the frozen ground, a bleed of dark crimson trailing up to the highest views of a grim landscape. It is a Gothic painting brought to life, accompanied by the relentless wind, downpour, and silence.

It is an unwavering exploration of class; race; and, faithful to the novel, the psychopathic bond between the main characters. The young actors portraying Cathy and Heathcliff are superb, their youth sufficiently awkward and genuine, as their characters develop a mutual dependence on each other. Their wills and egos battle against each other, both physically and emotionally, that only seem to strengthen with each blow of rebuke towards Heathcliff from Linton and Joseph. In this respect, the first half of the film featuring the young Cathy and Heathcliff is a triumph; sparse in dialogue and lingering shots of unbridled emotion.

Unfortunately, the latter half the film suffers as the transition is made to a more conventional narrative style, containing more dialogue and characters. The older actors portraying Cathy and Heathcliff are stiffer, more wooden, and do not seem as believable as their younger counterparts. Perhaps it is a sight of maturity to the characters (although unlikely, considering the emotional maturity of the characters does not entirely shift in the novel), but the bond between the two, as seemed so strong in the first half, is somewhat diminished, and elucidated as rather more two-dimensional. Perhaps Arnold realises that the crux of the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff is grounded in their youth, and is wise to end the film with lingering shots of the children surrounded in a hazy fog, pinned in the wet dirt; a return to its earthly origins.

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