Andrea Arnold’s attempt to fashion a 19th-century social realist rendition of Wuthering Heights – with a no-name cast of amateurs who can’t act nor lend weight to Emily Brontë’s words – is a disaster.
From the off this is an ill-judged and frankly pointless entry in the Brontë canon. Even the contentious casting of a black Heathcliff (played by Solomon Glave and James Howson), the free use of racial slurs and both the f- and c-words make this a strange, minimalist and largely unstructured film. Experimental? Possibly. Bold and innovative? No.
There is a Emperor’s New Clothes atmosphere around Arnold’s failure to grasp the weight of Brontë’s book. Many are nervous of pointing out the obvious: that this lightweight tale has come from the same filmmaker so lauded for her debut Red Road and her follow-up, Fish Tank.
The story of Wuthering Heights – the intense love between Cathy Earnshaw and the foundling, Heathcliff – should not be treated reverentially but it should be given an accurate and plausible interpretation.
Arnold’s decision to excise huge swathes of the novel and to underwrite or bastardise the central characters results not so much in a skeletal representation of this mighty book but in something that simply emerges as primitive, crude and guaranteed to cause offence.
Some films can be described as honourable failures. There is nothing honourable about Wuthering Heights; it is merely a failure, and one to be quickly forgotten.