Wuthering Heights (UK, 2011)

The new black

If there was danger of another version of Wuthering Heights becoming hackneyed then the casting of black actors as young and older Heathcliffe immediately averted the possibility. Bronte describes Heathcliffe (as I remember) as ‘swarthy’ and so it’s entirely fitting, as are the racist expletives which Bronte couldn’t have used in her novel. Race is added to the class issues of the novel and Heathcliffe’s ‘outsider’ status is heightened.

Unlike mainstream versions of the novel, Andrea Arnold directs this as resolutely arthouse with little emphasis on narrative development. Instead nature, animals and the landscape, is given time to take its proper role in the story and, in doing, stalls the narrative slightly. The Academy ratio (4:3), I think, is used to constrict the mise en scene so we’re not allowed to bathe in the beauty of the landscape and it emphasises that the characters are trapped.

The performances are good, though I found Kaya Scodelario too insipid as the older Catherine; newcomer Shannon Beer excels as the younger. Arnold shows Cathy and Heathcliffe’s attraction to each other to be elemental, based on a necessity, and not romantic. I shall have to find to time to reread the novel as this version is a revelation.

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