Wuthering Heights

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For Andrea Arnold the Gothic exists in the atmosphere, mood, and imagination of a locale. Thrushcross Grange and other Yorkshire locations impose the wonder of the supernatural into every frame. Wuthering Heights (2011) is brimming with fog drenched heaths that are blistering beneath the surface with danger and intrigue. 

Arnold trusts the strength of these images, these distinctly English places. Likewise, Arnold finds poetry in the sounds of the wind, the rain, the wildlife. The soundtrack to Wuthering Heights, effects and music, feel so much like Ursula K. Le Guin. Wuthering Heights is so visceral, intense and decidedly feminine that it stands out as the most faithful adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel. Andrea Arnold has such an unrivaled sense for space, both in terms of the abstract and physical, that any delineation from the source material’s narrative is more than compensated for by the film’s emotive power. Emily Brontë is such a sensual writer, and yet almost every other adaptation of her most renowned book can’t seem to get around her “bodice ripping” narrative. It’s as if the story itself is so compelling that filmmakers forget about the images Emily Brontë paints with the poetry of her prose. 

Brontë and Arnold both approach their characters almost as if they had stumbled upon them on some long walk through the country. For these two women, the characters in their works are tied to a place; these characters share the beauty, passion, and rage of their homes. What Andrea Arnold does in adapting Brontë is channel and distill the style of the novel into the cinematographic langue. One might say that Wuthering Heights is a case of translation more than it is an example of adaptation. We don’t need Heathcliff (James Howson) to reveal himself in dialogue, Arnold accomplishes this in how Heathcliff’s footsteps sound, how his shirt is worn, and how his eyes move as if they are always searching, always longing. With Wuthering Heights Andrea Arnold is a minimalist; she cuts and trims the source down to its most primal images. If Danièle Huillet is a minimalist approaching her material on an intellectual level, then Andrea Arnold’s approach is all about the physical, the senses.

Genius doesn’t sell or popularize films unfortunately. I remember when Wuthering Heights came out. I loved this film, as much as I loved Arnold’s earlier picture Fish Tank (2009), but everyone I knew, even my fellow film students, were disappointed. The impression I remember having at the time was that audiences went into Wuthering Heights expecting something more Andrew Davies-esque. In retrospect that isn’t so surprising, but it is still very disappointing. 

If one trusts Elizabeth Gaskell, it’s safe to assume that what most moved and affected all of the Brontë sisters was what they saw and how things were seen. I like to think that, of the adaptations of her novel, Andrea Arnold’s film version would be Emily Brontë’s favorite. Wuthering Heights is a film that makes one want to write about what one has seen in the most immediate sense.