Yet another adaptation of Emily Bronte's classic novel & this time it is Andrea Arnold (Red Road, Fish Tank) who takes on what some consider the unadaptable novel. Despite countless renditions on film and television, none are seen as the 'definitive' take, and are widely panned by fans of the novel. Counting Bronte's intense and harsh novel as one of my favourites, I have watched many of these versions - and there is always something missing.
A large proportion of the film focuses on the iconic lovers in their childhood years. Commendations to both Beer and Glave - both gave absolutely stunning performances, managing to capture a raw edge to their existence in such a far-removed environment, and exhibiting both the light and the brutal dark to their characters. Despite flaws in the script - very little dialogue and crucial dialogue missed - they managed to convey much through facial expressions - no mean feat for new actors. Unfortunately, this was somewhat undone by the 'older generation'. Howson created a Heathcliff it was difficult to feel for, and difficult to hate, when both should be achieved by the actor. Scodelario failed to bring much to Cathy - in an admittedly short space of time - and seemed to have spent too much time perfecting her accent than perfecting her character. The first scene of the film (older Heathcliff) before we see the youngsters grow up together on the Moors was a random scene from the middle of the film, and did not work well as a framing device as it said very little about the overall arc of the story.
The film captured the essence of the Moors well - despite a somewhat tiring aural tirade of wind blowing & doors slamming, Arnold has managed to convey the harshness in what is a both a torture and a love story. What mattered less was the close-up shots of insects - this added little to the film and seemed to be a replacement for proper editing. The broad images of the Moors, spreading out distantly out of the windows of the Heights showed perfectly the isolation and expanse of Yorkshire. The two children were covered in mud, and whereby in previous adaptations, you sense that slightly out of shot there is a flat ground where the camera is set-up, Arnold seemed to not shy away from taking a steadicam up a hillside to get a 'true' shot.
What I struggled with, essentially, is to feel a pull to either of the central characters - whereby Beer and Glave set the scenes well, it is Heathcliff's tortured return, his harshness and his brutal behaviour which brings the story to a head. This lacked substantially. Whereas Scodelario failed to give Cathy much character (bizarrely), Howson failed to have the stature or visual look to seem threatening or foreboding. Though they cut most of her part, Nelly Dean (played by Simone Jackson) managed to pull most of the emotional weight of the story.
Leaving out the second part of the story and the next generation is commonplace for Bronte fans. Unfortunately, you have to be replacing the story with a different framing device, a different resolution to either bring something new to the plate, or to round-off your plot within a two hour time frame. Arnold failed to do this - the story went out with a fizzle, not a bang. You cant help but feel that the film was trying to be too artsy and high-cultured to consider all aspects of the story, which is essentially a Romance. Oh, and for the love of god don't use Mumford & Sons to play over the last scene and credits...