Powerful adaptation bristles with intensity

WUTHERING HEIGHTS (DVD). With Kaya Scodelario, James Howson, Oliver Milburn, Lee Shaw, Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer. Directed by Andrea Arnold.

The bleak existence of the residents of the manor known as Wuthering Heights is disrupted by the arrival of Heathcliff (played by Solomon Glave as a child and James Howson as an adult), an orphan of unknown origin taken in by the Earnshaw family of Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff is generally mistreated by the family, especially by the cruel Hindley (Lee Shaw). In the midst of his suffering, Heathcliff falls passionately in love with the young Catherine Earnshaw (played by Shannon Beer as a child and Kaya Scodelario as an adult). Their unquenchable desire to be together eventually threatens to destroy their own lives and the lives of everyone around them.

Director Andrea Arnold presents a faithful vision of Emily Brontë’s classic novel that bristles with intensity. She takes a minimalist approach, stripping away the typical features of period dramas. The film contains no epic musical score or sweeping vistas. Instead, there is little music to speak of and the camera work consists mostly of close ups and tracking shots. Deliberately ‘shaky’ camera work also serves to accentuate the film’s unsettling atmosphere and underscores the characters’ troubled mental states.

The characters are portrayed by a cast of largely unknown actors, for many of whom Wuthering Heights is their first appearance on the silver screen. All of the actors give strong performances and the child actors are especially impressive given their ages and relative inexperience. Newcomer James Howson makes an impression in the iconic role of Heathcliff, notable for being the first black actor to play the role. 

Wuthering Heights focuses unrelentingly on the novel’s bleakness and cruelty and can be a challenging watch. Nevertheless, viewers with the stamina to sit through it will be treated to one of the strongest and most interesting adaptations of the story yet.

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