With news that Andrea Arnold’s American Honey has snared a distribution deal with the wickedly cool A24, this week we’re encouraging our 52 Films By Women club to indulge in her acclaimed adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
Full Disclosure: Despite being an avid bookworm, I found reading the school assigned Wuthering Heights an absolute chore. Bronte’s diction frustrated me. Her characters confounded me. How—I wondered—were Catherine and Heathcliff supposed to be considered iconic romantic figures? They were alienating and grating in their tempestuousness and rage. I didn’t get it. But that changed in 2011 when I saw Arnold’s vivid version.
Before Ecosse Films hired Arnold, the would-be production bounced from directors John Maybury to Peter Webber, picking up various would-be leads along the way from Natalie Portman, Abbie Cornish and Gemma Arterton to Michael Fasbender and Ed Westwick. Having broken through two years before with the challenging coming-of-age drama Fish Tank, the English writer/director wasn’t about to deliver a dusty bog-standard take on this classic tale.
Arnold and her co-writer Olivia Hetreed wove race into the story’s themes of class conflict, casting black actors Solomon Glave and James Howson as Heathcliff (young and grown-up). Their script smartly paints Catherine and Heathcliff as outsiders, connected in their oppression by a society forcing them into boxes. Their rage and romance is given a modern rebellion context. And both Heathcliffs and Catherines (Shannon Beer and Kaya Scodelario) were cast with equal care, crafting a pair of lovers (young and grown) that brought a raw and reckless passion to a love story I never before understood.
Glave and Beer play Heathcliff and Cathy as children on the brink of their sexual awakening. Through bareback horse-riding, wrestling in mud, and games of trust and trickery, we see the spark that will flame up into a dangerous, all-consuming and terrible love. Howson and Scodelario shoulder this growth with a mesmerizing mix of sex and seething. All four forging a portrait of love that is a feral thing that won’t be tamed.
Beyond that, Wuthering Heights is beautiful,. Though grimy, caked with mud, muck and blood, it’s brilliant in its decay. And through close-ups of hair, fur, flesh and feathers, Arnolds gives her film a texture so rich you can almost run your fingers through it.
Kristy Puchko invites you to tweet at her with your #52FILMSBYWOMEN picks.