The latest Wuthering Heights is down-and-dirty, with Arnold employing the same kind of handheld camerawork and boxey 4x3 screen ratio as her BAFTA-winning predecessor Fish Tank. The stylistic immediacy jars at first given the built-in genre expectations, but viewers accustomed to Arnold's directorial approach will certainly find it a rewarding experience.
The story opens with the Earnshaws taking in a homeless boy, naming him Heathcliff (Solomon Glave) and making him part of their family. Heathcliff forms a deep bond with Catherine (Shannon Beer) and the pair's relationship flits between the familial and romantic. When Catherine heads off to the local manor house to marry Edgar Linton, Heathcliff finds himself ostracised by Cathy's volatile older brother Hindley. Heading out into the Yorkshire mist, he returns years later (now played by James Howson) and seeks to reunite with Cathy (Skins actress Kaya Scodelario taking over the part).
Brontë purists may scoff at Arnold's radical approach to the 19th century novel, but in truth this overhaul completely re-energises the story for a new generation. This Wuthering Heights casts black actors as Heathcliff, giving the tale a layer of racial tension on top of its class friction.
Heathcliff arrives to the Earnshaws with whip marks on his back and a branding scar, hinting at a painful slave upbringing. It's wise to wave goodbye to romanticism, too, as this incarnation is intense, no more so when a wealthy Heathcliff returns in his 20s.
Moving and tender performances from first-time actors Glave and Beer carry the film for the first hour before the older actors take over. It's the younger duo that make the bigger impression, playfully frolicking through the moors as Arnold's camera explores the rolling Yorkshire landscape. With the tragic romance and keen eye for nature, there's a streak of Terrence Malick's '70s classic Badlands running through the heart of the film.
Scodelario and Howson get less screen time than their younger counterparts, and consequently their bond never feels quite as strong. She, still married to Edgar, is keeping her emotions in check, while he, somewhat cruelly, plays with the affections of Isabella Linton (Nichola Burley) to torture Cathy.
Wuthering Heights is challenging and has moments that are tough to watch (animal lovers may find themselves squirming) - and those art house sensibilities will mean its audience remains limited - but its darkness and brutality make it a totally unique take on the costume drama.
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