Leeds Film Festival 2011: Day 1

What a time to get the snuffles, eh? A hefty wad of tickets sat teasing me on my desk this morning and by the evening, I'm stuck with a couple of pieces of hanky up my nose, trying to avoid the cameras as I make my way to the opening gala of the Leeds Film Festival.

Like a carbon copy of last year, but with different free booze, the entrance to Leeds Town Hall was crammed with eager film-goers waiting for it all to start. I notice a few familiar faces in the crowd from previous fests, and the odd glance of recognition is exchanged. We file our way into the main hall and I manage to plonk myself in my favourite seat.

It's the same venue, so again we had to contend with some iffy acoustics, but I've complained about this before, so I won't go on. We just had to make the best of it.

Wuthering Heights (UK) (wiki/site)

Director Andrea Arnold gets the honour of opening the festival with her next film after last years' Fish Tank (which unfortunately I happened to miss). After Arnold and a locally picked lineup of the film's stars suffered a rowdier than necessary reception from some idiots up in the rafters, (who got told to shut up, earning the director another round of applause from the rest of us,) perennial festival organiser Chris Fell got out of the way and the film began.

Once I heard that Wuthering Heights was getting a showing, I made sure my next book would be from my library of cheap classics that over several years I am slowly making my way through. It's a proper classic, and though the period style of vocab-rich chatter can take an initial adjustment period, it's one of those passionate page-turners that earns it's reputation.

Arnolds film attempts to bring the 300-ish pages of thick velvety prose and multi-generational love-hate tale down to a two hour film, and as you would expect, some elements are sacrificed. Not the location, of course. It's filmed entirely on the Yorkshire moors in all their foggy, muddy, gritty glory. Or the perceived living conditions which are lifted straight from the pages, faithfully painting a picture of the Heights as a semi-barbaric place that barely accommodates the living as so many seem to cough and die there. (Indeed, perhaps with tongue in cheek, Arnold signifies the imminent demise of several of the characters by them suddenly having a terrible cough, and croaking almost in the next scene, something parodied several times in popular culture.) What does go is the gentility and complexity of the script; whereas the book is filled with intricate conversations between the characters, these are reduced to their absolute minimum, and without the cut-glass accents and reservation of swearing you might expect either. Consequently the film loses some of the beauty that could have potentially been realised on the screen.

For those who haven't read the book, it tells the story of Heathcliff, a dark-skinned boy brought into Wuthering Heights - a remote farmhouse way up on the hills, cut off from the rest of the world in rain and snow. Treated badly at the start by the occupants - except for Mr. Earnshaw who brought him in, and his daughter Catherine, a wayward minx of a child who takes a shine to him. Slowly however his meagre comforts are removed, and when Catherine gives her hand to another, Heathcliff flees, vowing revenge on all who have done him bad. When he returns, he wreaks havok on the lives of all, regardless of whether they had done bad by him or not.

Though the story includes the lives of several generations of the Earnshaw family, and the partners in their entwined fate, the Lintons in nearby Thrushcross Grange, the film strips this down also, concentrating only on the feverish relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff and largely forgetting the rest. Mr Lockwood, in the position of the reader as the unfortunate man who stumbles on the households some years later is removed entirely, and the narrator of the bulk of the piece - the servant and diplomatic linchpin Ellen is only a background character. Consequently, what could possibly be seen as the most iconic scene from the book - the spooky and feverish hallucination of Lockwood as he spends the night in Cathy's room and feels an icy hand on his - is missing.

Is what remains any good? That will depend I think on whether you have read the book. I felt disappointed at the minimal script that was only loosely tied to the original, and some of the language (not only the clumsiness of the wording, but also all the jeffing going on!) felt very out of place and quite jarring. The camera work was a bit annoying too. A lot of fuzzy close-up shots where the cameraman was drunk or getting too familiar with the backs of the actors, interspersed with shots of the various fauna. It wore down the patience after a while.

So.. yeah. I wouldn't say it was bad, but there were several troubling elements that might have seemed less so without the words being fresh in my mind, mixed with a general feeling that too much had been cut out. There is a raw, bleeding passion present in the film, but it is of a less intensive, shallower kind than that achieved in the book, and despite the adult Cathy being played by the distractingly beautiful Kaya Scodelario (whose eyes could melt even Heathcliff's stony heart), it's not a film I would want to spend a second pair of hours re-watching. 7/10

Update: In the cold light of day, looking through some previous reviews of mine that got the same score (and were better films), Anonymous's post caused a rethink. 6/10


Anonymous said...

7/10? LOL

5/10 if i'm having a good day

also who where the chavs shouting

fancyplants said...

No idea who those guys were in the balcony seats; I initially thought they were friends of the director or actors, but it seemed more likely they were just a couple of semi-drunk idiots who thought they'd see what a festival was like and didn't realise it was going to be different to a standard night at the flicks where idiocy and general disregard for other peoples enjoyment seems commonplace . Fortunately they seem to have been asked to either shut up or leave and for the sake of the rest of the film thankfully they did.

As for 5/10, for me that would be a little bit harsh, but I was certainly disappointed. Did you dislike it for the same reasons?