Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights

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Wuthering Heights (2011/2012)

Opened: 10/05/2012 Limited

Film Forum/NYC10/05/2012 - 10/18/201214 days
The Nuart10/12/2012 - 10/18/20127 days
Kendall Square...10/19/2012 - 10/25/20127 days
Music Box Thea...11/30/2012 - 12/06/20127 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Facebook

Genre: Romantic Drama

Rated: Unrated


Andrea Arnold's WUTHERING HEIGHTS is an excitingly fresh and distinct take on the classic novel by Emily Bronte.

An epic love story that spans childhood well into the young adult years, the film follows Heathcliff, a boy taken in by a benevolent Yorkshire farmer, Earnshaw. Living in Earnshaw's home, Heathcliff develops a passionate relationship with the farmer's teenage daughter, Catherine, inspiring the envy and mistrust of his son, Hindley. When Earnshaw passes away, the now-grown characters must finally confront the intense feelings and rivalries that have built up throughout their years together.

Arnold's film is a beautiful and evocative visual masterpiece that brings out the powerful emotions at the heart of Bronte's classic novel, resulting in a viscerally affecting love story. It is a sweepingly old-fashioned tale of family, class, and romance told in a bracingly modern way by one of contemporary cinema's most gifted and unique filmmakers.

About the Production

"I have never liked the idea of adaptations," says WUTHERING HEIGHTS' writer-director Andrea Arnold. "A book is such a different language from film and they are often complete as they are, so I have really surprised myself by attempting one. And what a book to pick," she wryly acknowledges. "It's gothic, feminist, socialist, sadomasochistic, Freudian, incestuous, violent and visceral. Trying to melt all that together into a film is an ambitious and perhaps foolish task. Any attempt will never do the book justice. But it was as though I had no choice. Once the idea was in my head I could not put it down. Even when things became very difficult I couldn't let it go."

She was not alone. Producer Robert Bernstein of Ecosse Films says they had been mulling an adaptation of the Emily Bronte classic for quite a few years and along the way had different directors attached to different versions of the script by Olivia Hetreed. "It's a massive thing to take on what may be the most read English book, and everyone has an opinion on it. We wanted to make it in a way that hadn't been done before, because obviously there had been many film and television adaptations. You can't do it without being different, otherwise what's the point? Then we met Andrea and found out by chance she had always wanted to direct WUTHERING HEIGHTS, which you wouldn't guess, not at all. She wanted to go back to the book and make it her own. I think she had a particular take on the material that spoke to her."

Arnold recalls her introduction to Emily Bronte's classic. "The first time I knew of WUTHERING HEIGHTS was seeing the film with Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Cathy when I was a kid. I don't remember why, but it deeply affected me. I read the book later when I was a teenager. I was surprised because it wasn't quite the love story I had grown to expect. It was a much darker, stranger, more profound thing."

Typically in adaptations, the focus has been on the passionate bond between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, enshrining WUTHERING HEIGHTS as a tale of undying love. But it is also a story of extreme emotional cruelty, physical abuse, consuming obsession and complete isolation, an inescapable tragedy. Arnold says "When I re-read it after many years I found myself fretting about Heathcliff. The ultimate outsider. A vertical invader. I wanted to make it for him. The way he was treated as a boy. The brutality. The way he then turns out. A product of his experience, or of his true nature? Cathy says she is Heathcliff. I think Emily was Heathcliff. I think we might all be Heathcliff."

Bernstein notes: "What hadn't been done before was casting the actors the right ages. When Andrea came in and wrote her version she wanted the children to take up as much time on the screen as they do, which is a very bold approach. So it evolved. It's very elemental and it's about Heathcliff's needy obsession for Cathy. The decision to have it more or less exclusively from Heathcliff's point of view was also, I think, a big, bold one. Our goal was to facilitate Andrea's vision because she is a very distinctive author-director. Authenticity and truthfulness are very important to her and I think that comes across in all aspects of the film. It has a grittiness and a realness about it, which is interesting in a period piece, and is very much what it would have been like. We set out to make a provocative piece and that's what we've got."

"All I could do was make my own personal version," Arnold says simply. "Despite it being so known and so talked about, the book still feels so personal and intimate. I can really sense the raw feelings of the young Emily writing alone in her bedroom, letting her imagination roam, the wind crazy outside. She was a poet, one who had the courage to speak with her own very original voice."

The desire for authenticity led to a remote location at the western end of Swaledale in North Yorkshire, where an autumn shoot with wild weather and flooding -- appropriate, since wuthering is old Yorkshire dialect for turbulent weather -- meant negotiating difficult terrain just to reach it from the production base in Hawes. The house itself is frequently imagined as an imposing Gothic edifice, but Bronte's descriptions are not of a grand manor but an old farmhouse. "Andrea was always clear that it should be a hill farm, not a Miss Haversham type of mansion atop a hill," says producer Kevin Loader, "because if you go to Yorkshire, people didn't build those types of houses on hills. The world of the Grange is very much the 18th Century one of civilized comforts while the Heights shows a way of life unchanged for hundreds of years. There's no electricity up there and no running water. But those meadows are still farmed. It's the hardest shoot I've ever been part of; there was a constant awareness of wind and water, the darkness and the harshness of the elements. But it brings home that kind of isolation and closeness to the natural world."

"Nature had to be part of my WUTHERING HEIGHTS," Arnold states. "I knew this without question from the start without knowing exactly why. Nature can be both beautiful and comforting but also brutal, selfish, furious and destructive. We are part of it, not separate from it, despite how we live. We are animals, and not always as in control as we think we are. Heathcliff is a force of nature. We all are. It had to have a big presence, be woven into every part of the film."

Sound was always going to be important in conveying that, prompting Arnold's decision to forego a musical score but bring in French sound designer Nicholas Becker to complement the imagery with natural sound. "I wanted to hear everything: the animals, the wind, the kicking, the slapping, the whipping, the yelping, the screams, the crying, the pain."

Loader comments, "When you look at what Andrea's done with the material through the prism of Andrea's work you can see how it fits in. It's about somebody who is on the margins and abused and obsessive. She has come across as someone who is resolutely modern and it was only chance that we heard it was one of her favourite books. I think Andrea's concern was to make something very vivid and vibrant and immersive and timeless. Because that landscape is so elemental you really want to feel the physicality of that world and that you've been dunked in that mud, and I think that you do."

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan "was a hero of the shoot," Loader adds. "He is a genius. Like Andrea he's very instinctive and fearless, he was up to his knees in mud with a camera."

Of her casting process and what she was looking for, Arnold says, "I tried hard to honour what I personally interpreted in the book. Heathcliff's difference and strangeness, and how young everyone was." (Cathy, it should be remembered, is not yet 19 when she dies.) "I wanted to explore further working with a mix of non actors and actors as I have done before. We looked for non-actors for the Heights and actors for the Grange. I wanted the Heights to be raw and untamed and elemental and masculine and the Grange to feel mannered and more feminine and careful."

Casting of the non-professionals was a lengthy process through workshop sessions. Actress Kaya Scodelario had already been the first cast, as the older Cathy. James Howson, the older Heathcliff, had actually come along to a session with a friend, Loader recalls. "James just had something about him. He has incredible presence and dignity, and looks beautiful on screen, like a young Jimi Hendrix." After Howson was cast, Solomon Grave as young Heathcliff and Shannon Beer as young Cathy were found. Locals, including sheep farmers and a racehorse trainer, took small roles, which contributed to authenticity and brought film crew and community together.

"Andrea is very instinctive," Loader notes, "and that pays off working with non-actors because she's very good at explaining to them what she's after, which may be one little moment of truthfulness."

Of the resulting film, Loader considers, "I think it's extremely faithful. I think everyone's been corrupted by the older and the Gothic and the melodramatic versions about this great, fantastic love affair -- whereas actually it's a dark story of obsession and despair and it's very tragic. It's rather amazing to see that story." For Bernstein, "Ultimately we set out to make something with Andrea that was uncompromising, with integrity, and I think we've done that." And for Arnold, "I want to say so much but think better I say less and let the audience have their own relationship with the film."