Wuthering Heights (2011): 7/10
Probably forever doomed to be 'that weird adaptation of Wuthering Heights where Heathcliff is black.' Which is a shame, because there's so much more to it than that. Heathcliff is black, yes, and he's got scars from lashings and even a branding of ownership seared into one of his shoulder blades. Otherwise there's not much different between him and every other Heathcliff that has ever existed, though here he has been filtered heavily through the director's lens. Which is what makes this such a fascinating adaptation--director Andrea Arnold strips this tale down to its barest essentials, then stretches those bare essentials out. This is a slow film, bound to try the patience of some. There is no (musical) soundtrack, barely any dialogue (there may as well be none at all), and it contains almost as many shots of nature as a Terrence Malick film. Indeed, unless you're already familiar with Wuthering Heights, this film may not work. The central tragedy is here, but the romance and melodrama are largely gone. Throughout the film there are numerous close-up shots of insects going about their business on the wind-blasted moors, and one imagines that Arnold is treating her human characters in much the same way--shot in close-up yes, but we only drop in on them here and there, just to see where their scurrying has brought them.
Which isn't to say that this is a cold film. All the passion, desire, and (very) good looking leads that you'd expect to find in Wuthering Heights are here, but when stripped of that certain refined and elegant Masterpiece Theatre quality the story becomes chilly and brutal--punctuated by flashes of beauty perhaps, but the film radiates the atmosphere of the moors so forcefully that I could nearly feel the cold of it in my own bones. Arnold also makes the interesting decision to present the film in a 4:3 aspect ratio--which seems counter-intuitive at first, given the expanse of the wild world young Heathcliff and Cathy (who seem almost feral here) explore, but quickly comes to make sense. Arnold wants to inspire claustrophobia--she wants the dirty and dank interior of Wuthering Heights to, in some ways, mirror the moors and the false freedom that the children find there. Heathcliff and Cathy are trapped (by society, by their own cruelty), and eventually the Yorkshire moors will swallow up their cold corpses, leaving only their half-seen ghosts to flit across the tangled undergrowth, as the insects scurry beneath.