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"Wuthering Heights" Returns to the Screen--Again

The Bronte story of Heathcliff and Cathy is retold for the 21st century, in what critics are calling a bruised and brutal style.

 

A farmer visits Liverpool and finds a dark skinned boy on the street. He brings the child back to his isolated Yorkshire home to live with his two biological children and be part of the family. The boy, Heathcliff, grows up with the farmer's children and becomes friends, and then lovers with the farmer's daughter, Catherine. Their obsessive love eventually destroys them both and everyone around them.

Emily Brontë's "Wuthering Heights" tells this compelling, memorable story in a very complicated form, with diary entries, chronological jumps and other literary devices. Rendering the story in another medium is next to impossible, but every few years, someone tries again. 

This time, it's Andrea Arnold's turn.

Here's what the critics are saying:

Moviemakers have brought Emily Brontë's novel to the screen at least 20 times, most famously in William Wyler's 1939 Hollywood version; in 1954, that impeccable misanthrope Luis Buñuel transported the tale of doomed love on the Yorkshire moors to Mexico. Heathcliff, Brontë's stormy Lothario, has been played by many a romantic star — Laurence Olivier, Timothy Dalton, Ralph Fiennes and, in a 2009 TV film, Tom Hardy — but never before by two young black actors: Solomon Glave as the boy Heathcliff, James Howson as the young man. That casting trick is the main inspiration of Andrea Arnold, director of two widely admired films in the miserabilist style, Red Road and Fish Tank (the latter costarring smoldering hunk-du-jour Michael Fassbender, who at one time in this project's tortuous history was set for the male lead). Richard Corliss and Mary Corliss

Arnold’s Wuthering Heights is not only the most visually accomplished and powerful film she’s made yet, it’s one of the most visually accomplished and powerful films of the year. Layered with symbolism, processed through the unreliability of emotion and memory, it’s true visual art. A faithful adaptation of its source material means that Arnold is left with a film that centers on two awful people, and is tasked with making their passion feel sympathetic, but that never happens. Despite casting two interesting up-and-comers for the roles of adult Cathy and Heathcliff, the film spends too much time with their younger counterparts. Kate Erbland

But while purists may blanch at such liberties, Arnold's approach does Brontë no disservice, and even if the casting of a black actor as Heathcliff makes the tale more about race than class, the seething rage that drives him might just as easily have been sparked by one form of oppression as the other. What I found more of a problem was the faint stiffness and self-consciousness of the acting and the crucial lack of chemistry between the adult Heathcliff and Cathy. We need to believe in this love in order for Arnold's gloriously bruised and brooding vision to properly hit home and I never did, quite. This duo don't like us; they won't hold our gaze. So all we can do is sit in the dark and admire their travails from afar, like peering through binoculars at some big cat at play on open ground; one that is too wild – too unwilling – to draw too close. Xan Brooks

 

Wuthering Heights is 2 hours and 9 minutes long. It stars Solomon Glave and James Howson as Heathcliff, and Shannon Beer and Kaya Scodelario as Cathy, child and adult.

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