This is a film adaptation in the manner of Michael Winterbottom’s Jude – but even more silent, stark and brutal, and crossed with a nature programme. The advert to visit Yorkshire that preceded the film seemed ironic, as rather than celebrate the Moors, Andrea Arnold has made them utterly unappealing, full of thick mud, lashing rain, poverty, cruelty and misery. There are animal cruelty scenes I found disturbing – the apparent live murder of a sheep and rabbit, and two little dogs are hung on a gate. These were unnecessary – and more to the point – involved inhumanity which seems to clash with ethics and respect for nature that so features in the film. ‘Love is a force of nature’ feels like a recycled Hollywood tagline (wasn’t that a suggestion for Titanic?) and yet love or nature don’t feel like forces here. Even the eerie obsession of Cathy and Heathcliff isn’t clear from this film. Rather than being stylistic, the handheld camera and darkness felt like the crew didn’t know how to light properly or hold a camera.
Everything about the film felt relentless. I am not a fan of the don’t-speak-cut-the-scene-abruptly school of filmmaking, the darling of arthouse cinema and snobby buffs – I am learning that what does well at Cannes is often to be avoided. Little is really expressed in those so called meaningful looks. Andrea has recast most of the dialogue and ‘Heathcliff is more meself that I am’ is not an accurate paraphrase of the famous ‘Nelly, Nelly I am Heathcliff…rocks beneath’ speech of the novel. The cast, with the exception of Joseph and the brief glimpse of Linton’s family all seem to have diminished in age – someone not yet forty could have mothered them all. The Earnshaw’s house is not that of a wealthy family who have a housekeeper and for whom Cathy’s marriage to Heathcliff would be degrading – nor for Cathy to be considered by the Lintons as a suitable bride. Its unwashed, mud soaked walls do not match the gentlemanly clothes that Mr Earnshaw wears. The supernatural element and the calming narration of Nelly Dean from Emily Bronte’s novel are all missing, as is the more likeable (ie normal) romance of the next generation with Hareton. It’s certainly an original take on the classic, which has never appealed to me, but this film even less so; and with its headbanging, odd camera focus and necrophilia, I was glad I had seen it for free. If I have the need to Wuther in future, I’ll stick to Kate Bush’s rendition who for me has the best understanding, without the misery or the endurance needed to sit through this.