"After a period in which versions of Austen hogged our screens, the Brontës have fought back," writes Boyd Tonkin in a piece for the Independent that begins, by the way, with a brief but rousing history of Charlotte's detestation of Jane Austen. "Released today, Andrea Arnold's savagely uncompromising Wuthering Heights joins a line of adaptations of Emily's only surviving novel that began in 1920 (a lost work by AV Bramble) and went on to include renderings from directors as varied as William Wyler — with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon still the ranking Heathcliff and Cathy Earnshaw to many fans — and Yoshishige Yoshida, Luis Buñuel and Jacques Rivette. Earlier this year, Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre, with Mia Wasikowska as the uncowed governess and Michael Fassbender the sulphurous Mr Rochester, offered a rather smoother ride through another much-adapted book, albeit one that shares with Arnold — and the Brontës — a rapt attention to every squall and storm that blows across the ever-changing skies above the Yorkshire moors."
The Independent's Anthony Quinn: "In this version the romantic antihero Heathcliff is black (played as a boy by Solomon Glave), a runaway slave found by a farmer, Earnshaw, on the streets of Liverpool and taken to live with his family on a remote Yorkshire hill farm. Brontë's 'dark skinned Gypsy' is here disdained as a 'nigger,' shifting the burden of his brooding anger on to race more than class. Farmer's daughter Cathy (Shannon Beer) is at the outset an honest country lass, slightly bemused by the interloper, only revealing her stronger instincts by degrees. Beneath the blustery northern skies they roam the countryside on foot and on horseback, the handheld camera keeping so tight you can see the boy lean in to catch the scent of her hair. Robbie Ryan's signature shots in this film tend to be extreme close-ups, of faces, but also of nature caught on the wing – beetles, cobwebs, sunspots. Dialogue is pared to a minimum, while incidental music is banished almost entirely; instead we hear the wind gusting off the moors, or boots squelching in mud. It would not have been a surprise to hear the cameraman's teeth chattering…. Some viewers may baulk at such liberties, yet there is something irresistible in Arnold's commitment to the practice of showing rather than telling."
"This version brings the story back to a kind of social-realist year zero," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "The real, unpretty toughness of the Yorkshire moor has perhaps never been represented more matter-of-factly, nor the hardscrabble existence of those who might have really lived in that farmhouse in the 19th century. This world is elemental, almost primeval, and the gap between human and beast is narrowed…. The film gave me something I never expect to get from any classic literary adaptation: the shock of the new."
"The film's interest in dirt and dust, blood and bogs, brings to mind the earthiness of Andrew Kötting's Émile Zola adaptation, This Filthy Earth," suggests Dave Calhoun in Time Out London, "although the intimate shots of nature recall Terrence Malick. There's a touch of the Ken Loach of Days of Hope or Bill Douglas of Comrades in its unfussy, non-decorous approach to period — although, unlike them, Arnold prefers little talk."
Or, another idea from Robbie Collin in the Telegraph: "The wildlife close-ups, the sensitivity to the weather and seasons, the twin obsessions of sex and death: all of this put me in mind of the brutal, lyrical work of the Japanese director Shohei Imamura, particularly his 1983 saga of life in a remote mountain village, Ballad of Narayama."
"Robbie Ryan won the Best Cinematography prize at the Venice Film Festival for his Turnerish tableaux of mist-draped valleys, alternating with handheld sequences in which we are hauled about in mud, dragged through wet heather, buffeted by storms, exulted by glimpses of spring days ripe to the point of a voluptuous rotting," notes Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. "Even squeezed into the film's square frame, Arnold's trademark, like snaps from an early box camera, Ryan's images are often overpowering…. Arnold, who crafted those pithy tranches of Brit realism Red Road and Fish Tank, has every right to perform a 'literectomy': filleting a novel of the unfilmable, going for the feral through the photogenic. But in this movie there is too much photogenic, too little feral and, sadly, no Heathcliff worthy of the name."
"Forget the wispy, melodic strains of wee Kate Bush," advises Donald Clarke in the Irish Times. "The proper accompaniment to this Wuthering Heights would, perhaps, be the sound of a knobbly stick being hammered against a weather-beaten sheep's skull."
"Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay Arnold is to say that the film's faults are almost all those of the novel itself," writes Alexandra Coghlan at the Arts Desk. "Her Wuthering Heights is a film of unwavering conviction."
Update, 11/12: "Denied the verbal duelling that made the recent Jane Eyre crackle or Bright Star (2009) shudder with suppressed longing, Cathy and Heathcliff flail sulkily at one another to signal mutual desire, and non-professional actor James Howson is reduced to skulking and scowling to convey the wretchedness of the adult Heathcliff." Kate Stables for Sight & Sound: "A wraith-like Kaya Scodelario makes a brief, trembling mark as the rapidly ailing adult Cathy, but there's misery rather than chemistry in their groaning, clutching reconciliation…. Nothing in the dawdling, overwrought second half can match the sensuous immersion of the childhood scenes, and frequent flashbacks to that rough-and-tumble idyll only highlight this disparity in emotional force."
Updates, 11/13: "The novel and the 1939 film introduce Heathcliff as a fascinating, insoluble enigma," writes the Observer's Philip French. "In Arnold's movie he's merely a puzzle, a tornado of resentment whirling destructively across the bleak and intimidating landscape."
In the Telegraph, Ben Leach is the first to profile James Howson, a 24-year-old who "comes from a broken home, was expelled from school when he was 14, and has even spent time in jail for robbery and selling drugs." He's "now back living in a council flat in his home city, and claiming Jobseeker's Allowance."
"The relationship between the ethnicity of a movie character and that of the actor playing them has never been a straightforward matter, but right now it seems to be particularly complicated, if not downright contradictory," writes Steve Rose in the Guardian. "For some, it is a sign that we are moving towards a 'color-blind' entertainment environment of equal opportunities; for others it is a threat to racial boundaries and identities. Now, at least, we have a name for it: 'race-lifting.'"