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Emotions get lost on the moors in 'Wuthering Heights'

Posted 3:16pm on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012

Unrated (violence, brief nudity, strong language, sexual situations, disturbing images of animal abuse); 129 min.

Yet another adaptation of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights emerges from the blustery moors of England. Like so many that came before, director Andrea Arnold's take on the novel zeroes in on just one portion of the story, the star-crossed romance of Cathy and Heathcliff. Her approach to the material is fresh, considering her focus on the messy, muddy landscape as a metaphor for the story's unbridled relationships. But with so much attention paid to mood and imagery, emotions seem to get lost in the wind.

As the film opens, a grown Heathcliff (James Howson) suffers through a moment of despair. He throws himself against a wall, wailing, and hits his head on the floor. A bare tree branch scratches menacingly at the window. The camera focuses and blurs. Without a word, the film announces its disquieting intentions before jumping back in time to the moment when Heathcliff first meets the Earnshaw family.

As an orphaned boy, Heathcliff was taken in by Mr. Earnshaw, but one could hardly call it a rescue. Beaten and bullied by his adoptive brother, Hindley (Lee Shaw), Heathcliff develops a dependence on Mr. Earnshaw's daughter, the impetuous Cathy (Shannon Beer). In a slight twist, Heathcliff is black (played as a boy by Solomon Glave), but this doesn't seem to affect the plot except to allow the despicable Hindley to unleash occasional racial slurs.

Wuthering Heights seems to be the land that the sun forgot. It's part of Arnold's exacting sense of atmosphere, and the oppressive cloudiness works. But there is an inordinate amount of time spent staring at the scenery. In another attempt to set the mood, many of the camera shots are dark and shadowy. Yet in many cases, the lighting is so dim, it becomes nearly impossible to discern what's happening on-screen.

It's as if Arnold took this impassioned tale and injected it with Botox. Where are the emotions? With the exception of the opening scene, the rare occasions when characters express feelings -- screaming or crying -- ring curiously hollow.

Exclusive: Angelika Dallas; Angelika Plano

-- Stephanie Merry, The Washington Post

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