Any film that takes its inspiration from a renowned work of literature is going to be judged harshly. Based on Emily Bronte’s famous 1847 novel of the same name; Wuthering Heights may fail to live up to the sharp and beautiful prose of the book it is inspired by but it does manage to effectively capture its mood and convey its themes. There is no doubt that creating an emotional atmosphere for the film, to the detriment of dialogue, plot progression and effective actors. It is better to think of the final product as more of an art film, if you watch with little expectation there is much enjoyment from its visually arresting and accomplished cinematography.
As in Brontë’s famous novel, a young boy (Solomon Graves) is rescued from poverty by the patriarch of the Earnshaw Family. Their farm on the muddy English Moors is the titular Wuthering Heights. Dubbed Heathcliff, he is an uncouth and silent boy who reacts to little going on around him. He forms a fierce attachment to is foster sister, Catherine (Shannon Beer), and they run wild on the sullen moors of the English countryside. His attachment to Catherine is matched by his antagonism to his foster brother, Hindley; who is dispatched for college after an altercation with Heathcliff.
Hindley returns after father’s death and humiliatingly tells Heathcliff that he can either be a servant and labourer or he must leave. Heathcliff will do anything to stay with Catherine and so he accepts. They become separated anyway when Catherine goes to live with the well-off Linton family who live nearby. As she becomes more cultured the distance between her and Heathcliff grows. One night he overhears that she has accepted the proposal of young Edgar Linton. He becomes distressed and disappears into the night.
Several years later Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights dressed as a gentleman and with pockets filled with money. He is determined to win Catherine from Edgar Linton and never leave her again. Catherine and Heathcliff’s unwavering love and dedication to each other will ultimately cause ruin and destruction to everyone around them.
This may sound plot dense, but really, very little actually happens when spaced out over two hours. Characters barely talk to each other and just roll from one action to the next with little motivation. Their job is simply to convey potent emotion instead of becoming well-fleshed characters. Wuthering Heights nitpickers will also be enraged by how the plot as been excised to only the most basic points. The material covered here is probably less than half the novel. However, the movies saving grace is its beautiful and visually arresting cinematography.
More than the people, the star of the movie are the moors themselves; whose weather fluctuates according to Heathcliff’s moods. There are perhaps too many, indulgent, lingering shots of the moors; and insects, the moon, trees, the window. But the film has succeeded in creating an unsettling emotional state that invokes the hopeless feeling of the actors. The unusual choice of a handheld camera adds to this effect with most of the actors and action being shot from point that is “too close” to be comfortable for the eye.
If you are willing to let these great, spare emotions wash over you the film is perfect for a contemplative evening.