This is a hard film to review, because while I am full of admiration for its ambition and radical reinterpretation of a classic novel, I also think that a lot of people will find it hard going. Let me try to explain.
First of all, rid yourself of any thoughts of Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon striding across the (Hollywood) moors. This is an Andrea Arnold film. The Andrea Arnold who made Red Road and Fish Tank, films about ordinary people and their ordinary lives. She is not a costume drama director. So she and scriptwriter Olivia Hetreed come at the story from the perspective of class, gender and race. Heathcliff is a black kid, rescued by a kind farmer, who then dies, leaving him to the not very tender mercies of the son, even though (or perhaps because) Heathcliff and the daughter Cathy have a strong attachment. So he is cast out to live with the animals, where he conceive a bitter hatred against pretty much everybody.
Now while this storyline follows the Bronte original, the way in which it is presented is something completely different. For a start there is relatively little dialogue. The moors are like a character in their own right, the setting for the unspoken bond between the two children, and even when the characters speak, it is not the kind of dialogue you are used to in 19th century fiction. Then there is the fact that the actors are non-professionals, and that the film aspires to a level of naturalism that is reminiscent of Ken Loach. All these factors combined mean that this is a film that you have to watch without preconceptions, and allow yourself to surrender to a different kind of rhythm.
Its weakness lies in the fact that in the second half of the film, the older actors are unable to muster sufficient emotional gravitas to retain our interest as fully as the first half, but apart from that, I thoroughly recommend the film to anyone who wants to see something out of the ordinary. At its best, it is simply superb.
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