Of the many movie and television productions of Emily Bronte’s 1847 novel Wuthering Heights, this new British release probably best captures the time and place of its origins. That qualified praise comes for one of the few positive elements in this dreary, colorless new production that manages to accomplish what previous incarnations have not: being boring.
In this version, director Andrea Arnold again renders an in-your-face narrative about the dissembling of a family. The difference here, however, is that this story takes place in Northern England of the 1840s, not the urban 21st-century England perfectly suited to Arnold’s two fine earlier films, Red Road and Fish Tank.
Frequent use of both racial and homophobic slurs seems like little more than pandering for the arousal of modern sensibilities. And the on-screen slaughtering of a goat — and the realistic torture of two dogs — also look like little more than attempts to provoke and create controversy. Such transparently cheap tricks are inexcusable for any reason.
The now well-known story of the tortured love between Catherine Earnshaw and the supposedly mysterious Heathcliff accompanies the tale of two young people maturing, somewhat, into young adulthood but still drawn to each other by some strange force never explored here.
Instead, this Heights veers away from soaring romance and becomes simply a bifurcated story about a surly cipher and the inexplicable hold he has over a simple-minded, overprivileged twit who dies at age 18.
Director Arnold seems to have aimed at controversy, or at least heightened conversation, everywhere. Her cast includes many non-professionals. It’s easy to recognize the few professionals, as they are the ones with decent diction and who show emotion without rank stiffness.
Arnold has cast two young black men, both amateurs, as Heathcliff: Solomon Glave as the younger, and James Howson as the older. Neither shows any discernible acting skills.
Arnold lets almost every scene go on too long. Between scenes, she seems incapable of simply cutting. Instead, she fills in the gaps with increasingly annoying close-up images of trees, moors, insects, shrubbery, the moon, flowers and birds. Lots of birds.
When finally getting around to filming her scenes, she returns repeatedly to her favorite visual tropes: Heathcliff standing outside a window looking in; Heathcliff running on the moors; and a flurry of indefinable images during numerous scuffles.
The dark and often nearly indecipherable shaky-cam photography, the lack of sustained drama, the repetitiveness, the amateur cast and various other annoyances all add up to a disagreeable experience.
Not rated, 129 minutes.
Opens Friday at the Angelika Plano and Dallas.