New York Film Festival: Andrea Arnold’s ‘Wuthering Heights’

By Diana Barth Created: September 28, 2012 Last Updated: September 28, 2012
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Young Heathcliff (Solomon Glave) and Young Catherine (Shannon Beer) in “Wuthering Heights.” (Agatha Nitecka/Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Young Heathcliff (Solomon Glave) and Young Catherine (Shannon Beer) in “Wuthering Heights.” (Agatha Nitecka/Oscilloscope Laboratories)

NEW YORK—From its earliest moments, filmmaker Andrea Arnold’s version of the Emily Bronte classic impresses upon the viewer the power and impersonality of nature. The North England countryside is gray and unforgiving—one senses the wind biting through clothing and loosened soil blowing into the eyes.

Heathcliff is portrayed by a black actor (Solomon Glave). How better to indicate the outsider status of the teenage foundling who has been taken in by the well-to-do farming family, the Earnshaws. The unsophisticated Heathcliff is much abused, particularly by the son of the household. However, another member of the family, daughter Cathy (Shannon Beer), grabs Heathcliff’s attention, and the two, who at first spar, later become as one. The relationship, merging passion and innocence, is bound to be ill-fated. For Cathy, a dependent female of the period, must find a dependable husband who will see to her needs.

The two experience intimate, compelling moments, as they wander about the unwelcoming moors, only to be brought up short by the reality that must at some point impinge on their happiness.

Later, welcomed into the neighboring home of the wealthy Lintons, Cathy marries Edgar Linton. Enraged, Heathcliff leaves, determined to make his fortune and return.

Now played by an older pair of actors, James Howson and Kaya Scodelario, Heathcliff, now successful and a gentleman, does return, but faces a losing battle to win Cathy, as she is ensconced in her new position in life. Heathcliff tries to lord it over his old enemies, but it is an empty victory. The movie loses a bit of steam in the second half, for the meat has gone out of the conflict; it’s pretty clear how things will end. The romance is doomed.

Nevertheless, the pressure of nature, indicated remarkably by the excellent, often handheld, camerawork of Robbie Ryan, plus Nicolas Becker’s vibrant soundtrack that presents barking dogs, wind, rain, flapping shutters, and more, show the basic helplessness of man against the elements.

Andrea Arnold’s is an interesting take on this ever-compelling classic, far different from the better-known William Wyler-Sam Goldwyn production of 1939, which starred Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier.

“Wuthering Heights” will be shown at New York’s Film Forum beginning Oct. 5.

Diana Barth writes and publishes “New Millennium,” an arts publication. For information:

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  • Paul Dean Daniggelis

    Heathcliff leaves BEFORE Cathy marries because he overhears her ridicule the possibility of marriage between them.


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