Andrea Arnold’s third film is her stripped-back adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights. The director has had great success with her variation of CinÃ©ma vÃ©ritÃ©, first with 2006’s Red Road and again with Fish Tank in 2009. However, a period drama adapted from a much-loved source material is the polar opposite of the director’s very British, realist cinema. The most important question is whether Arnold has managed to stamp her authorial signature, on this iconic classic?
What Arnold has achieved with Wuthering Heights is undeniably admirable, but it isn’t her best work. This isn’t a romanticised period drama, it is very much, an Andrea Arnold film set in the 1800s, featuring all of the director’s usual trimmings; beautiful handheld cinematography, a soundtrack of digetic music and characters inhabiting a hostile environment.
Arnold presents a realistic depiction of what life would be like on the Yorkshire moors in the 1800s, ie monotonous, isolated, frustrating and gruelling. This isn’t the idyllic world that audiences expect from a period drama. This aspect is the most enjoyable part of Arnold’s film; how she captures both the beauty and the savagery of the land (a metaphor for our two protagonists, Cathy and Heathcliff). The rain and the wind relentlessly batter the moor’s inhabitants, to the extent that it’s comparable to the hostile environment on LV-426 -the planet colonised in James Cameron’s, Aliens. This probably sounds outlandish, but rarely has the moorland been depicted with such ferocity, truly bordering on being ‘alien’.
The symbolism in Arnold’s film is rife. When previewing the film I felt it bared a certain resemblance to pretentious student films and that is an impression which is hard to shake. How many times do we need to witness Heathcliff or Cathy juxtaposed with a bird flying in the sky? We get it; the characters long to escape.
Let’s discuss the biggest elephant in the room; the dialogue. As stated, Arnold’s intention was to remove all of the weight associated with the novel (and genre), so don’t expect much of Bronte’s dialogue, but despite this, the film still runs at a whopping two hours and ten minutes!
For Arnold’s stripped-down period drama to have worked, she should have delivered a 90 minute version. This would have made for a far more succinct experience and a far more enjoyable piece of entertainment. Disappointingly (and not without some irony) it isn’t just Cathy and Heathcliff who feel the monotony, of the hostile moorland, of Wuthering Heights.