SIFF is over for another year, and I managed to repeat a mistake I made a few years ago. My last film was to be a romantic comedy of sorts called Gayby, about a woman who persuades her gay friend to sleep with her to get her pregnant. I was looking forward to it; it sounded amusing and after Friday’s showing of Wuthering Heights, I needed amusing.
A few years ago, I was running late to see a Spanish film called Lovely Loneliness. I made it in time, except I ended up at the wrong theatre. This time around, I made it to the right theatre…but at the wrong time. I thought it started at three. It started at two. By the time I arrived, the film had been playing for a half hour. Grr.
So my last film ended up being the newest adaptation of Wuthering Heights.
I want to preface this review by saying two things: one, I love costume dramas (as evidenced by my rapid consumption of BBC period pieces, Middlemarch and North and South being my two favorites) and two, I have a preference for depressing films.
So you’d think Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights would be right up my alley, yeah?
No, not so much.
It’s hard going into a film that you know very little about and can’t really derive what the story is from the film itself. Heights is, of course, the tragic love story of Catherine and Heathcliff. The film version consists of very little dialog (which kind of makes sense, as one of my friends pointed out the first part of the story is told from the point of view of the maid, and the two characters rarely speak) and a whole hell of a lot of symbolism. The film is basically one giant symbol. It’s frustrating, slow, and often annoying as shit.
Why would you see it? Well, if you like the book, you may enjoy the film. The same friend who then spent an hour telling me about the second half of the book (which is not in the film) said that the atmosphere matches the atmosphere of the book. And without having read it myself, I would agree. It’s stark, moody, and lovely, in a rather muddy way. It rains torrentially, and there’s a perpetual wind. It’s not a place I would voluntarily go to. But even if the film had no dialog whatsoever, I think you could understand the story unfolding strictly from the visuals. And that, I suppose, is a supreme feat of film making.
It just takes a while (a very long while) for the story to gel.
The pacing is slow, and spends quite a bit of time establishing Heathcliff and Cathy’s relationship as children, some of which is unnecessary. There’s a scene where Cathy trips and lands in the mud, and then Heathcliff proceeds to sit on top of her and smear mud all over her. Why this scene was in the film, I’m not sure. It’s like one of those extra-long jokes that Seth MacFarlane likes to stick into episodes of Family Guy, you know, the ones that run on too long to be funny anymore?
The casting, though, was excellent. Young Cathy, in particular, was well cast, and you could truly see her transformation from a child running loose on the moors to a young woman who realizes her only option to get out from under her brother’s thumb is to marry a man she’s not quite in love with. My one issue with this is while young Cathy and adult Cathy were quite good, and both looked like you’d imagine a tragic heroine would look like, they didn’t look a thing alike. A bit disconcerting.
Ultimately, my reaction to Wuthering Heights was similar to that of The Monk: well done, and in this case a beautiful work of art, but not my cup of tea.