I’m not sure I could give you a plot summary of Emily Bronte’s novel “Wuthering Heights” based on the 2012 film adaptation by Andrea Arnold. High school English students looking for the newest movie version so they can avoid reading this classic tome of British literature will find themselves sorely disappointed. Film lovers, however, ought to rejoice.
As far as cinematic adaptations of novels go, this might set some kind of record for fewest lines spoken. And “Wuthering Heights,” at over 400 pages, makes for no small feat to pull off in this style. But the absence of words is never felt. The impressionistic visual cutaway replaces the long dialogue exchange or the superimposed voiceover, effectively substituting prose with the poetry of Arnold and her cinematographer Robbie Ryan. This novel (pun fully intended) approach to filming a classic work like a textual look book and not an instruction manual earns my respect and my plaudits for as “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”
Since Arnold and co-writer Olivia Hetreed eschew a faithful transposing of words to screen, perhaps a review of their movie ought to do the same. Far more important than plot in any given moment is feeling. Be it the ever unconsummated passion between the taken-in black orphan Heathcliff and well-to-do Cathy or the unbridled jealousy of Heathcliff emanating from the men of the house, the film is all in the visuals. A jarring handheld shift or a quick change of camera focus speaks far more powerfully than words.
Maybe most impressively, the social constraints that most period films just tiptoe around receive forceful stylization. With tight close-ups in the limitations of the 4:3 aspect ratio, the wide vistas or the set/costume department exhibition take a firm backseat to the given emotion of any moment. All the 1800s flourishes feel like the final addition – not the springboard – into “Wuthering Heights.” An old story like this has rarely ever felt so modern.