One of the greatest English classics, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, written between 1845 and 1846, was published only in 1847. It was only after the literary success of Emily’s sister, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre in 1847 that Wuthering Heights saw the light of the day in print.
Set on the British Yorkshire Moor in a manor called Wuthering Heights, the story narrates the almost obsessive love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, an orphan brought up by her parents. Their unrequited passion ultimately destroys them and many around them, reducing to cinders the impressive Gothic mansion itself.
It is this Wuthering Heights, later lauded as a still better work than Jane Eyre, that British director Andrea Arnold has visualised into a movie, which is competing at the ongoing Venice International Film Festival here on the Lido.
Arnold, who made gritty cinema such as Red Road and Fish Tank, has made a movie that is quite dark, hardly verbal and captivatingly rustic. And she has made Heathcliff a black (played by James Howson), in what is a daring departure from the book.
Using first-time actors and a handheld camera (oh, but what a distraction this is), Arnold focusses on Heathcliff’s traumatic boyhood in the impoverished home of Catherine, her parents and brother. The boy (Solomon Glave) is physically and mentally abused, and treated no better than a slave. It is only Catherine who loves him, but is helpless to stop the inhuman treatment. This actually leads to Heathcliff’s almost desperate love for Catherine (essayed by Shannon Beer as the young version, and Kaya Scodelario as the older one).
Though beautifully shot in natural light in Yorkshire by Robbie Ryan, the movie is true to Bronte’s work, but somewhere Arnold’s effort fails to create the mesmeric richness and tragic poignancy of the written classic.
I suppose such comparison between words and visuals are not exactly fair, but Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is such a part of our English reading that many of us would tend to feel a pang of disappointment at Arnold’s film.
I am told that Wuthering Heights has an India distributor that will gladden the fans Bronte and Arnold.