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First Black Heathcliff Gives “Wuthering Heights” Adaptation A New Twist, 1st Reviews From Venice

First Black Heathcliff Gives "Wuthering Heights" Adaptation A New Twist, 1st Reviews From Venice

Andrea Arnold‘s Wuthering Heights premiered at the Venice Film Festival yesterday and was received with critical acclaim. The Emily Brontë classic torrid novel’s newest adaptation stars its first black Heathcliff, portrayed by newcomer James Howson.

In the story, Heathcliff is found as a boy on the street by a Liverpool farmer who takes him in as part of his family on the isolated Yorkshire moors where the boy forges an obsessive relationship with the farmer’s daughter. Kaya Scodelario plays the farmer’s daughter Catherine.

It’s interesting to note from the reviews below, that the script took some liberties not found in the original novel. Heathcliff is called a nigger and in this adaptation, he struggles to be accepted more because of his black race rather than his working class status, as in the original novel and previous screen adaptations.

Here are some excerpts of the latest festival reviews:

Oliver Lyttelton of The Playlist:

“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.”

Xan Brooks of The Guardian gave the film 3/5 stars:

“Arnold shoots much of the action on hand-held camera, with sun-spots on the lens and the wind booming off the microphone. She tosses her protagonists out into the wilds, leaving them to wander at length among the rustling gorse while keeping the dialogue on a subsistence ration… He’s not my brother, he’s a nigger,” Hindley (Lee Shaw) barks at his father. Elsewhere, Heathcliff dismisses the lady of the manor as a “stupid whore” and says “fuck you all, you cunts” to the assembled guests. None of these lines, so far as I recall, can be found in Brontë’s version… But while purists may blanch at such liberties, Arnold’s approach does Brontë no disservice, and even if the casting of a black actor as Heathcliff makes the tale more about race than class, the seething rage that drives him might just as easily have been sparked by one form of oppression as the other.”

Neil Young of The Hollywood Reporter thought this screen version was radical and more refreshing than past versions.

“Performances are blunt and unmannered. Top-billed Kaya Scodelario plays the adult Cathy with only the occasional linguistic anachronism jarring on the ear. These minor flubs are outweighed by the impact of the plausibly unadorned, sometimes vicious language used by what are essentially uneducated working-class farmers… This includes several four-letter outbursts and a smattering of uses (by Hindley) of the N-word towards Heathcliff – Glave and Howson are both black, a pioneering bit of casting from Arnold. Heathcliff is described in the book as “dark”, “gipsy” and looking like a “Lascar” from southern Asia, but has always been previously played by Caucasians.”

This film’s newest version remains one of my most anticipated films to see. I wasn’t aware of the peculiar changes made to the story, which makes me even more intrigued to see this adaptation.

Wuthering Heights is still without U.S. distribution and a trailer hasn’t yet been released.

See the clips below:


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