Like many other people, I took English in high school, and like many other high school English students, I was moody, brooding, and really into canon "romance" novels. So it should come as no surprise that Wuthering Heights holds a dear, dear place in my heart. I was fully prepared to love Andrea Arnold's new film adaptation of the Emily Brontë masterpiece, especially given that Arnold directed 2009's instant classic Fish Tank and had cast Skins' Kaya Scodelario as Catherine. Unfortunately, in her attempt to strip the story down to its Gothic, miserable bones, Arnold leaves you with just...misery.
Having neatly removed the entire framing device of the lodger who hears the whole soapy tale from Nelly the maid, the movie begins and ends with Heathcliff (James Howson), who in this version is understood to be a former slave. Played as a child by Solomon Glave, Heathcliff has all the makings of the Byronic hero he was in the book, but it's never quite clear why he and Catherine are so into each other. Perhaps it's because over half the movie is about their childhoods. Yes, Catherine and Heathcliff's love builds when they're very young, and yes, it's an irrational love, but this doesn't play out so well on screen when you're looking at actors who are actually 12 or 13 years old. What's also weird about this is that Howson and Scodelario, who are both sort of baby-faced, are barely in their early 20s--it would hardly be jarring to have used them earlier on in the film.
Visually, the tone of the movie is spot on--everything is drenched in fog, and shot in that handheld, shaky-cam way that is annoying for the motion-sickness-inclined but does accurately convey the visceral feelings experienced by the characters. But it's hard not to wish for a little more lightness here and there. Even as children, Catherine and Heathcliff seem sad and depressed, and by the end of the movie, you find yourself almost gasping for a break from these oppressive, dimly lit houses and endless moors. You could look at this as Arnold doing her job well--after all, her source material isn't exactly a party--but it's so bleak that it ends up being a little too hard to watch.