Hear the title Wuthering Heights and you’ll either immediately recall Kate Bush’s magnificent warble or, if you were a certain sort of teenage girl, you’ll remember huddling under bedcovers frantically reading pages and swooning over Heathcliff in whichever film adaptation you could get your hands on.
Well, there’s another Heathcliff on film to clamp your eyes on, although this film’s intent seems to rest on as little swooning as possible. Directed by Andrea Arnold, who became renowned for her previous film Fish Tank – a gritty look at the life of a young girl living in an impoverished English council estate – this new take on Emily Bronte’s tale is as grim as the others are romantic.
On a wild and windy night, Mr Earnshaw returns home to his Wuthering Heights estate in the company of an urchin boy he found on the streets of Liverpool. Young Heathcliff immediately becomes a confidant of Earnshaw’s daughter, Catherine and they become increasingly entwined in each other as they run afoul of near constant neglect, violence and abuse within the household.
Arnold removes the overtly gothic element of ghosts and ghouls that ran through the book, instead focusing on the underlying issues of how and why Heathcliff and Cathy behave the way they do. Rather than assuming the guise of the most sweeping of doomed romances, Catherine and Heathcliff are revealed to be abused souls who take from their shared ugly upbringing twin desires for cruelty and revenge, against each other and anyone else unfortunate enough to wander into the crosshairs.
Grim, desolate and devastating, Arnold’s version of Wuthering Heights is as stark as the moors that make the film’s gorgeously shot backdrop. A romance it is not, but as an incredibly stirring examination of the poisonous nature of obsession born out of abusive treatment, it certainly warrants your time and attention.
Wuthering Heights is released in cinemas on October 11.