Wuthering Heights

Directed by: Andrea Arnold
Distributed by: Curzon Artificial Eye

Written by Jeff Sparks


“Wuthering Heights” is Andrea Arnold’s dreary adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel that stars Kaya Scodelario and James Howson. In this decade-spanning love story, a homeless black child is taken in by a poor white family that abuses him except for the youngest daughter whom he creates an emotional bond with in the 1800s. In the first half of the film, we see the child, Heathcliffe, constantly being abused by his foster brother and the farmhands as they force him to work and treat him like an animal, even making him live in the barn. Giving him food and spending time with him is Cathy, the bratty child of the family. This young friendship is where the film is the strongest as we watch the two running about, playing in fields, and getting into the usual kind of trouble that kids get into. Eventually, Cathy begins spending time with a nearby wealthy family and loses interest in Heathcliffe, leaving him alone and abandoned, causing him to run away. Halfway through the film fast forwards four years and we see the two kids as adults. Heathcliffe returns to proclaim his love to Cathy, only to find that she has married a man from the wealthy family she became fond of. 

This back half may drag at times, but the time jump does wonders for the film, not only changing actors to portray the older characters but also changing the character’s behavior to show that the passage of time is unforgiving and will destroy all things known to be true in the past. The older brother of the family is now sick, Heathcliff is well mannered and Cathy has gone from a poor farm girl to a wealthy bride living in a big house in town. In the second half, Scodelario makes her presence felt, making me wonder why she wasn’t in the film more. Arnold has always been one of the best in the world when it comes to utilizing overlooked talent in her films, whether it be non-professional actors like Sasha Lane or Katie Jarvis, or underappreciated pros like Riley Keough, Michael Fassbender, and Kate Dickie. This makes me wonder why Arnold didn’t utilize Scodelario more in this film, being that she is not only the best, the most experienced, but also the most interesting actor in the film. Nonetheless, Kaya does very well in her limited screen time along with being the standout in a film that has many good performances. 

With her usual cinematographer Robbie Ryan, Arnold captures the 1800s English setting of Wuthering Heights as a drab, damp, cold, and wastelandish setting. In her preferred 4:3 style aspect ratio the camera gazes at many shots of the characters embedded in the nature around them that capture the essence of the moment. Wind blows leaves, hair, and tall grass while birds soar above in the gray skies that cast overwhelming dark shadows over the muddy fields Cathy and Heathcliffe trudge through their time together. One thing that has to be mentioned about the film is the controversy. The film has many racial slurs due to Heathcliffe being a black child in a white family in the 1800s. Although it may offend some this is not the director’s intention. Arnold chose to portray the story this way to show the realism of life in this time period in an authentic way. The same can be said of the realistic animal violence that is seen on screen. Arnold is always authentic and is not someone who will shy away from the harsh realities of the world.

“Wuthering Heights” Trailer

“Wuthering Heights” is streaming on Crackle, Hoopla, Kanopy, and Plex.

You can follow Jeff Sparks on Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.

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