Andrea Arnold, the director of “Fish Tank” and “Red Road,” turned heads when it was announced she would tackle a large-scale adaptation of Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights.” The choice was surprising, given that her previous two features are gritty modern-day tales, evoking the British kitchen-sink realism of the 1960’s.
The film premiered today at the Venice Film Festival, and the early reviews suggest that Arnold has not lost her singular vision with the film, despite the literary genre’s formulaic traditions. This “Wuthering Heights” drops much of Brontë’s famous dialogue in exchange for impressionistic, handheld camerawork from the great Robbie Ryan and a meditative, exploratory pace. Notably, much ink has been and will be spilled over one of Arnold’s major revisions: This version’s Heathcliff is an Afro-Caribbean orphan.
Despite the discussion surrounding the film, the reaction has thus far ranged from negative to extremely positive. Several critics have found fault in her liberties – Movieline even called them pretentious – while others, like The Playlist, found her vision a “remarkable reinvention.”
The film, which has not found a U.S. distributor yet, screens next in Toronto and opens in the the UK on November 11.
Variety – NEGATIVE
The dragginess is due to not only Nicolas Chaudeurge’s unvaried rhythms but also the monotony of some of the performances; young Glave and Beer as deliver every line in the same flat, affectless way, and although at first it’s interesting to see a version of the story with so much less screaming and crying, it sort of lacks a point after a while.
Telegraph – MIXED
Nature is the true star of Andrea Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights,” a raw and affecting adaptation that will bring a new audience to the Brontë story. Windswept moors have never looked as bleak as they do here, nor as rain-sodden. The Yorkshire Tourist Board shouldn’t expect a boost in visitor numbers.
The Playlist – VERY POSITIVE
It’s not quite a tearjerker, Arnold playing up the anger of the novel, and we sort of feel that’s the way that it should be. It is, however, incredibly powerful, extremely sexy (there’s one scene that takes place between Cathy and Heathcliff after the latter has been caned that’s more erotic than anything we’ve seen in a while), and a truly remarkable reinvention of a text that beforehand, we weren’t sure we ever needed to see on screen again.
The Guardian – MIXED
What I found more of a problem was the faint stiffness and self-consciousness of the acting and the crucial lack of chemistry between the adult Heathcliff and Cathy. We need to believe in this love in order for Arnold’s gloriously bruised and brooding vision to properly hit home and I never did, quite. This duo don’t like us; they won’t hold our gaze. So all we can do is sit in the dark and admire their travails from afar, like peering through binoculars at some big cat at play on open ground; one that is too wild – too unwilling – to draw too close.
The Hollywood Reporter – POSITIVE
That said, the film’s audacious unconventionality and a cast headed by a quartet of total unknowns make it, on paper at least, a tough commercial sell. But such is the enduring power of “Wuthering Heights” as a popular cultural phenomenon that, aided by what is likely to be very strong critical reactions and a healthy awards haul, there’s no reason why director/co-writer Arnold’s third feature shouldn’t prove an international arthouse success in the mold of her last effort, “Fish Tank” (2009).
Movieline – MIXED
And in the end, I didn’t get the emotional charge from “Wuthering Heights” that I was waiting for, hoping for. But it’s certainly one of the thorniest and most thought-provoking films of the festival. And although it’s been some 25 years since I read the book, I was surprised at the way Arnold reminded me of its unnerving emotional undercurrents, and of Bronte’s mystical-brutal view of the presence of nature in love and sex. As literary adaptations go, it’s both doggedly faithful and willfully untamed — a movie that’s hard, maybe, to love, but easy to respect.