Film review: Wuthering Heights

GRAEME TUCKETT
Last updated 05:00 01/12/2012
Wuthering Heights
New heights: James Howson plays Heathcliff as a newly freed slave in a retelling of Wuthering Heights.

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REVIEW: WUTHERING HEIGHTS (R16) (129 min)

Directed by Andrea Arnold. Starring Kaya Scodelario, James Howson.

‘In the whole story not a single trait of character is elicited which can command our admiration, not one of the fine feelings of our nature seems to have formed a part in the composition of its principal actors. In spite of the disgusting coarseness of much of the dialogue, and the improbabilities of much of the plot, we are spellbound."

So said Literary World, in a review of Wuthering Heights, published in 1847. And the same words will serve just fine to describe Andrea Arnold's (Red Road, Fish Tank) new film of the novel.

I've never seen a film of Wuthering Heights before, but I have read the book. And though I know that this film has polarised and enraged audiences, to me it's as true and faithful a reading of the book as any two-hour film could contain.

Arnold's decision to have her Heathcliff played as a freed or escaped black slave boy makes dramatic sense, and gives a punishing immediacy and modern relevance to the gulf between Heathcliff and his adoptive family.

His relationship with Cathy is that of two angry children, finding in each other the only kindness either of them have ever known.

Arnold's reading of the book is coarse, disturbing, blatantly sexual and violent. This is an insouciant, punkish take on the classic. Emily Bronte might well have approved.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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