Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. United Kingdom, 2011. Film4, UK Film Council, Goldcrest Films International, Screen Yorkshire, HanWay Films, Ecosse Films, MEDIA Programme of the European Union, National Lottery. Screen story by Olivia Hetreed, Screenplay by Andrea Arnold, Olivia Hetreed, based on the novel by Emily Bronte. Cinematography by Robbie Ryan. Produced by Robert Bernstein, Kevin Loader, Douglas Rae. Production Design by Helen Scott. Costume Design by Steven Noble. Film Editing by Nicolas Chaudeurge. Toronto International Film Festival 2011.
A withering experience. Andrea Arnold follows two brilliant explorations of modern day life in England and Scotland with a dour, unlikable adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic novel of love and inheritance in nineteenth-century Yorkshire. Heathcliff is a young gypsy boy rescued in the spirit of Christian charity by a man and brought to live on his rural estate, immediately inspiring the ire of his adoptive brother and falling in love with his new sister Cathy. The two share a passion for each other as they grow up, but when the father dies and the cruel brother is placed in charge of the property, Heathcliff is relegated to servant status and separated from his love forever. Arnold has brought a radical slant to the story with her stunning but persistently grimy visuals and spare use of Bronte’s dialogue (it follows the plot of the first half of the book’s narrative but cuts out most of the talking, then adds some colourful profanity of its own). This will infuriate a number of purist viewers, while her casting black actors as the young and adult Heathcliff isn’t quite as dangerous as it’s being made out to be (having white guys play him in pancake makeup in the past has been much more incorrect). What’s actually aggravating about this film is not its departures from previous adaptations but in how dispassionate and unsympathetic it is; Bronte’s novel has rarely been made into a particularly good film because it’s always converted into a drippy romance, but try as you might to dampen that aspect of the story, there’s no denying that it is a romance. Heathcliff is only motivated by his love of Cathy in everything he does, so having two actors with zero chemistry (Kaya Scodelario makes the dullest, most undesirable Cathy) kills the story’s primary thrust and makes a two hour experience feel ever so much longer.