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Taken to new Heights

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 8th September 2011

Autumn is approaching fast; a time at which, every year, an assortment of classic book-to-film adaptations cascade upon us like falling leaves (getting cosy and munching on popcorn is a much more inviting prospect than being left windswept and soggy by the autumn weather). Among this year’s chocolate-box selection is a sweeping silver screen version of Jane Eyre, released this weekend (which it has to be said, looks very promising – but the question is: can it live up to the wonderful BBC mini-series of five years ago?); an all-star Brit-packed adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and – going into 2012 – we can expect to be thoroughly thrilled and chilled by The Woman In Black, starring Harry Potter himself.

Another major reworking of a perennial staple for page-to-screen adaptations had its unveiling at the Venice Film Festival this week. The latest film version of Wuthering Heights is the imagining of acclaimed British director Andrea Arnold and its take on the enduringly popular story of passion and obsession is considerably gritty, closer-to-the-bone than its many predecessors and perhaps even brusquer than Brontë; if Jane Eyre can be likened to a rich, sumptuous but sweet soft-centre then the new Wuthering Heights is surely a dark and chunky chocolate with a nut at its core: precarious and tough but ultimately extremely satisfying.

Speaking before the film’s premiere, Arnold said she wanted to honour Emily Brontë and the book’s “strange, dark and profound” spirit in her version. Certainly the notorious wildness of the moors, as much a key ‘character’ in the novel as Heathcliff, Cathy and Edgar, are brought to life not only through the setting and naturalistic approach to the narrative - much like the recent Radio 3 adaptation of the book, the new film contains a smattering of coarse and profane language, holding nothing back - but most impressively, through the use of hand-held camerawork and shots that are rough around the edges, placing the characters deep within the wild and windy landscape and emphasising their tumultuous emotion.

Another fairly unique take comes in the casting; instead of being subconsciously distracted by superstar names, the two leads are played by up and coming actors. Kaya Scoledario (previously of Skins) takes on Cathy, while the role of Heathcliff – pictured here as a runaway slave picked from the Liverpool streets – is played by Solomon Glave, whose portrayal of Heathcliff as a a boy is being especially praised, and James Howson, in his first acting role; James himself being plucked from the job-centre to attend open-call auditions.

The production of the new Wuthering Heights has proved to be a long journey, almost as tortuous as the novel’s story, but well worth it for its brutal but brave portrayal. Lovers of the book will have to wait a little bit longer for the film’s release at the start of November – but that provides the perfect amount of time to curl up and give it a good re-read.

The enduring appeal of the Earnshaws: a timeline of Wuthering Heights in the spotlight

  • December 1845-July 1846 – Emily Bronte pens the novel.
  • July 1847 – A year after completion and initial rejection, Wuthering Heights gets a publisher.
  • 1939 – The seminal film adaptation of the novel appears, starring Laurence Oliver and Merle Oberon as Heathcliff and Cathy. It is nominated for Best Film at the 1939 Academy Awards.
  • 1970 – First colour film version stars Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall.
  • 1978 – The story of Wuthering Heights takes on a lyrical form when Kate Bush releases her musical imagining of the classic tortured love story as her debut single. It tops the UK singles chart.
  • 1992 – Another film adaptation stars Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche.
  • 2008 – Wuthering Heights is reinvented musically once more as a dramatic musical, narrated by Ray Winstone.
  • 2009 – A two-part television adaptation for ITV features Tom Hardy (who stars in the new adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) and Charlotte Riley.
  • 2011 – The latest film adaptation, directed by Andrea Arnold, is to be released.

3 thoughts on “Taken to new Heights

Mike says:

‘Red Road’ and ‘Fish Tank’, Andrea Arnold’s two previous films, are both really good. ‘Wasp’, which won the award for best short film in 2005, remains the only film starring Danny Dyer to have won an Oscar (so far!).

Louise Jones says:

I am just letting you know, that i will not be inviting ANY MEMBERS of TRO TO THE pictures or the theatre with me ( and I get very cheep tickets ) because I have been very concerned about the amount of posts you maKe relating to food one day If i become very rich i will open a theatre where their willl be no talkiing and no sweets eaten unless I give permission to do ,so i have been told no one will come to my theatre if i do this which will suit me fine !!!
I am looking forward to taking my mum to see Jane EYRE , she is not as she knows if people eat choclates i will at first glare then make shushing noises and then finally will say
xxxxxxx x( they are not kisses so you liken films etc to choclate boxes but the only box i like is an empty one ummm I will shut up now !!

Colin says:

Went to see Jane Eyre last night. To say I was outnumbered would have been an understatement. In a busy auditorium I counted four chaps. I couldn’t help wondering whether that ratio would be the same for readers of the book! Loved the film – beautifully directed.

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