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Is this Withering Heights?
The new version of Wuthering Heights
Anyone who watched David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz review the new version of Wuthering Heights on the Movie Show, will know that this film is dividing viewers.
For Margaret it was mesmerising "minimalistic, impressionistic, powerful filmmaking which brings a fresh take to this English classic." David hated the hand held camera work, and referred to the film as "badly made." He even used the term 'travesty' a word not often dredged from his extensive vocabulary.
The two almost ended up in fistycuffs before David resentfully gave it two stars while Margaret grating against David's ignorance blessed it with four.
So who was right and who wrong? While I normally side with David over Margaret, when it comes to critical judgement, in this case I decided to see Wuthering Heights despite his condemnation. And I loved it. Sorry, David.
Although I must say that the companion I went with hated this film with a passion akin to David's.
I thought the brutal intensity of the scenery, the characters and their harsh living condition in the moors were realistically portrayed. Having visited the moors in Yorkshire I know that the place is desolate, windswept and eternally lonely. Previous versions of Wuthering Heights have not captured this bleakness and dankness quite so effectively.
The young Cathy and Heathcliff are superbly played by Shannon Beer and Solomon Glave. Although having the young Cathy as a stocky farmyard girl full of vigour, only later to have her replaced by a genteel and petite young woman played by Kaya Scodelario (as the grown up Cathy) was a piece of miscasting. Although the fiery personality in both versions of the character were true to the book.
An interesting twist is that Heathcliff is played by a black actor. In the book he was always just dark. Although Bronte does mention that he was a 'little Lascar boy', and Lascars were the name given to English army servants from the East.
Director Andrea Arnold also portray's Hindley Earnshaw (Cath's brother) with a skin head haircut and a viscous and abusive mouth, suggesting she is passing comment on racial tensions in today's Britain. This sideline commentary, if you pick it up, is quite interesting and well worth fathoming.
A bit too refined?
Sure there was a bit too much dwelling on details - feathers, fronds and insects. But just a tad. Every now and again you just wanted to scream at the cameraman "Come on, move will you. We get the symbolism. We are not that dim witted. Now move on with the story will you."
Another common complaint is the minimal dialogue in the script. But then Bronte always did portray Heathcliff as the strong, dark brooding kind. So I don't see this as veering overly from the novel.
My companion disliked this film for much the same reasons as David did. She found the hand held camera work clunky. She also disliked the portrayal of Heathcliff as a wealthy black Englishman, claiming perhaps quite rightly, that such a portrayal was historically inaccurate for the time.
Lovers of the Emily Bronte's grand and passionate saga may also feel a little shortchanged. (Spoiler Alert) The film ends with Cathy's death and does not pick up the story of the next generation as the novel does.
But really it is a film you must make up your own mind about. To me it gives a new dimension to Bronte's powerful novel. While for others it may well just be a "travesty." You simply must decide for yourself and not be too readily swayed by other people's judgements.