I came to Wuthering Heights from an interest in director Andrea Arnold. I have not read the novel and have no intention of doing so. It’s not surprising that much of the past week’s coverage of Andrea Arnold’s film has been either through a literary adaptation perspective or the racial facelift given to the central Byronic protagonist, Heathcliff. Given the fixation with literary adaptations and the Englishness inherent in so many heritage films, it is of little surprise that director Andrea Arnold’s latest film has been given so much exposure by the British media. To contrast the current interest surrounding Wuthering Heights to Arnold’s last two overlooked films, Red Road and Fish Tank, and it is obvious to determine that a discriminatory cultural agenda is busy at work. If Heathcliff is the ultimate outsider then so is Jackie (Kate Dickie) in Red Road and Mia (Katie Jarvis) in Fish Tank – all three are united by a recurring thematic interest with looking, gazing and a certain want for social mobility. Although a neo-realist aesthetic has been attached to Arnold, what the first hour of Wuthering Heights proves is a capacity to move beyond realist predilections and create intrinsically poetic imagery reminiscent of both Tarkovsky and Malick. Heathcliff’s connection to the earth makes Arnold’s film an elemental one that is also movingly impressionistic in its depiction of a specifically English environment and landscape. The first hour is a process of magnification, bringing to life the micro details of Heathcliff’s new environment and so Arnold pushes the observational mode to its very extreme but as a result achieves a gripping transience. Arnold has referred to Heathcliff as a force of nature and his relationship with the Yorkshire moors is conveyed through a repeated and prolonged emphasis on water, mud, the sky, wind, fire, animals, and many other elements. Sound designer Nicolas Becker and sound recordist Rashad Omar serve Arnold brilliantly. Such depiction of the rural English landscape is reminiscent of Kevin Brownlow’s Winstanley (1976). Had this not been an adaptation I wonder to what extent Arnold might have gone to making the film into a singular character study and journey film. Ideologically, class and gender dominates the council estate narratives of Red Road and Fish Tank, and with the inclusion of race in Wuthering Heights, Arnold is likely to continue broadening her socio-political preoccupations. At the beginning of the film a hill farmer, Mr. Earnshaw, brings a young Heathcliff into the family home. As he stands in front of the family, some of them immediately pass judgement on Heathcliff and Cathy whom he will grow to love spits in his face. It is an unwavering moment, raw and to the core of human existence, and demonstrates Arnold’s innovative means of confronting wider prejudices, anxieties and issues without having to resort to sentiment.
Here's an interview with director Andrea Arnold: