By GUY FLATLEY
Remember the lyrical black and white imagery of William Wyler’s 1939 adaptation of Emily Bronte’s saga of the passionate but poisonous relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy? Certainly, nobody was shocked when Gregg Toland won the Oscar that year for black & white cinematography. The sound of Alfred Newman’s lush, symphonic music was something to swoon about, too, even though it trailed Herbert Strothart’s exuberant score for “The Wizard of Oz” in the Oscar race. And, naturally, audiences were impressed by the provocative, smartly crafted dialogue written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, the dream team that failed to win the Best Screenplay Oscar, thanks to Sidney Howard and his sprawling adaptation of “Gone With the Wind.”
But I suggest that if you do remember all of that you should give your memory a rest, click your inner delete button, and race off to catch Andrea Arnold’s dynamite retooling of Bronte’s only published novel. For starters, director Arnold, who co-wrote the screenplay with Olivia Hetreed, has done a crucial racial makeover on Heathcliff, the volatile orphan whose love for his foster sister Cathy is laced with frustration and contempt. In Arnold’s bold new take on the classic novel Heathcliff is black and uneducated, and therefore an object of ridicule and victim of merciless physical abuse at the hands of the bigoted, self-absorbed inhabitants of the raging, muddy 19th-century English moors. (And the most brutal of his tormentors turns out to be Cathy’s older brother Hindley, a sadistic drunkard who’s mastered the art of physical and psychological torture.)
As a homeless boy adopted by Cathy’s father, a rigidly Christian Yorkshire farmer, the youthful Heathcliff is played by Solomon Glave, and James Howson plays him as a mysteriously prosperous but still hot-tempered adult. Both actors display a hint of menacing magnetism; you definitely wouldn’t want to go up against them. Shannon Beer and Kaya Scodelario are also persuasively unpredictable as the young, rough-edged Cathy and the older, wealthier and more manipulative woman she becomes.
No question about it, this potent interpretation of “Wuthering Heights” is the tops. A cerebral, sensual, shockingly violent knockout, from ominous beginning to heartbreaking finish. Opens on 10/5/12