Wuthering Heights (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
Mr. Earnshaw (Paul Hilton) takes a black child home and tells his family that the child has nowhere else to go. The Christian thing to do is to take him in and raise him as another member of the family. Hindley (Lee Shaw), Mr. Earnshaw’s only son, makes it clear that he detests the idea, but Catherine (Shannon Beer) makes an effort to bond with him. On the day of his baptism, the child is named Heathcliff (Solomon Glave). Over time, he and his foster sister begin to have romantic feelings for one another. What they have is threatened, however, when Cathy gets a taste of a lavish life while staying with the Linton’s.
“Wuthering Heights,” based on Emily Brontë’s novel of the same name has quite a compelling first half, so poetic in its images that serve almost like a veil that masks the alienation within, but it loses focus halfway through—when the young characters are grown up. The second half is plagued with clips of Cathy and Heathcliff as children that do nothing but to remind us of their history. The problem is, by that point, we are fully aware of what they have gone through. As a result, it expends time and energy looking back instead of moving forward. The film’s momentum is disrupted and it is barely able to recover.
It captures the beauty, the hardship, and the stillness of how it might be like living on a farm. Words are used economically, forcing us to turn our attention on how the characters interact with their environment. The indoors is often dark and dingy, almost prison-like. The outdoors is the antithesis: the emphasis is on the open spaces, the freeing energy underneath the natural light—even if it is overcast—and the way the breeze caresses everything in its path. Indoors, it is not often that the characters really look at one another. While outdoors, there is a longing to be understood and be loved.
There is a naturalism in the acting of Glave and Beer as young Heathcliff and Cathy, respectively, that is endearing. We wonder what goes on in the heads of their characters. Because they are young and sharing overwhelming feelings that is quickly becoming of romantic nature, it is interesting to observe the possibility that they are experiencing confused feelings but such are swept under the rug. Adults around them give looks of suspicion, at times telling them to repent. The camera does not linger.
Adult Cathy (Kaya Scodelario) and Heathcliff (James Howson) are less curious specimens. Due to the gap in time, necessary steps must be taken in order to enlighten us with what has happened in their respective lives. Like the jaded adult characters, the execution lacks vibrancy. The revelations just sit there. Each decision is drawn-out. There is a sadness in the way their lives have turned out in the way they had not expected, but I felt detached to their yearnings. This is most bizarre because I cared about what might happen to their younger counterparts. It is almost like watching two different people from completely different stories.
Based on the screenplay by Andrea Arnold and Olivia Hetreed, directed by the former, “Wuthering Heights” has the look and the feeling, but it lacks the endurance to explore the central conflict and therefore drawing us in completely. While the decision to maintain a minimal dialogue is daring and interesting, perhaps stepping out of the conceit when absolutely necessary—in order to establish a flow or convey specific emotions that cannot be communicated otherwise—would have been a wise alternative.