CRITICALLY SPEAKING: Wuthering Heights (15) by Graham Chalmers

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FROM early glowing reports at Venice Film Festival, British directer Andrea Arnold’s unconventional reading of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights has become something of a controversial item of late.

More Kes than Kate Bush, Arnold’s highly personal interpretation of this classic romantic tragedy is only the latest example of a recent trend for naturalism in British movie adaptations which includes Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre and Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, both from earlier this year, not forgetting Joe Wright’s version of Pride and Prejudice in 2005.

Though the boldly inventtive Arnold goes further down this road than any of the above, the movie is founded on the same duality of approach - impressionistic in style but expressionistic in purpose.

Remarkably dialogue-free with a cast made up largely of young non-actors, rather than letting the words doing the talking, the theory is that the characters’ emotions will emerge almost mystically through the misty camera work and stunning scenery.

Steeped in the brutal beauty of the Yorkshire moors with its harsh diet of mud, rain and wind, this new, untamed Wuthering Heights rubs our faces in the raw passions of the novel while wiping clean most of its narrative complexity.

The hope, clearly, is that by being ‘realistic’ to the point of monosyllabism, the ‘romance’ will also be more believable than previous chocolate box adaptations such as the William Wyler’s 1939 classic with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.

For all that Arnold has a poetic eye and a wild spark of originality worthy of the young Nicolas Roeg, the results are easier to admire than love.

Is the occasional bit of contemporary swearing really necessary? No.

Does the film’s quite brilliant rendition of ‘naturalism’ serve to undermine the story’s dramatic curve to its own detriment? Yes.

Would I want every British movie to adopt this bravely modernistic approach? No.

Yet after decades of stuffy costume dramas, the talented Arnold’s windswept vision still comes as a breath of fresh air.

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