The world has yet to see an adaptation of Wuthering Heights that wuthers like Emily Brontë’s novel – or that comes near the same heights of emotive power. Our heads should crash against the ceiling of the known emotional cosmos. Our hearts and senses should be blown about the landscape, blurring our perceptions till we can’t tell if these Yorkshire moors are real or are some landscape – savage, gorgeous, murderous – of the soul.
Andrea Arnold’s film certainly captures the landscape. 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. (I loved the two separated shots of a windfallen apple, its Edenic lure turning rough, putrid, Heathcliffean in a precocious sun.) Even squeezed into the film’s square frame, Arnold’s trademark, like snaps from an early box camera, Ryan’s images are often overpowering.
Then, alas, we get the actors. When I first saw the film I took a charitable view: they deliver the plain, colloquial dialogue plainly and colloquially. No period trimmings, a fair few f-words. The two actresses playing Catherine, Shannon Beer (younger) and Kaya Scodelario (older), capture some of her spiky spirit.
But Heathcliff, though daringly cast for an extreme reading of Brontë’s “dark, gypsy” looks (this Heathcliff is an Afro-stray picked up as a youngster in an English port), is played with too little daring by the two actors. The older, James Howson, woodenly pouts and mopes before his last moments of wooden weeping and raging. We feel robbed of catharsis. A screen Heathcliff, teased and tormented by his faithless childhood sweetheart, should be at least the troubled, tumultuous anti-hero Olivier gave us in the Hollywood film. At most he should be the brutal, driven agent of vengeance Brontë gives us in the original novel.
Writer-director 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.
Mad American girl pursues Mormon across Atlantic Ocean and kidnaps him for love. It actually happened. Errol Morris’s Tabloid, another weirdumentary from the maker of Gates of Heaven and The Thin Blue Line, is an everyday story of everyway love. If you cannot get a voluntary “yes” from your dream partner, go to England, abduct him from his religious sect – as beauty-pageant queen Joyce McKinney did in the late 1970s – and chain him to a bed for sex and deprogramming.
That’s how McKinney told her story and how British redtops avidly reported it. Years later McKinney re-impacted the west’s tabloids by having her pooch cloned in China. She returned to the US from another batty trip with five pups, earnestly protesting: “No, I’m not that Joyce McKinney”. But she was.
Morris giddies up the interview footage, which is mainly with McKinney (nothing from the Mormon, nor the sci-fi mutts), with pop-art-style graphics. But this is a soft subject for a man whose last docu-feature exposed the evils of Abu Ghraib (Standard Operating Procedure). He hardly needs to tease confessions from McKinney, who showboats in all directions. And he tells us nothing about the prurience and gutter morality of the tabloid newspaper industry that Britons haven’t heard every day and that the world, in the Murdochgate era, is now hearing likewise.
The British Guide to Showing Off is much more rewarding if you want lightly jaw-dropping non-fiction. Zany graphics. Eccentric erotica. Guises and disguises. And the modest-mannered, ever so British Andrew Logan – sly, wry, 60-ish – at the centre of Jes Benstock’s affectionate documentary.
Logan founded the Alternative Miss World contest, an annual fancy-dress conflagration that drew, in its prime, countless celebrity moths. Derek Jarman, David Bowie, Norman Rosenthal and others flapped their glued-on wings, got singed by a few tabloids and revelled in this harmless, provocative orgy of AC/DC dressing up. As a cherishable example of alternative British culture, it makes you wonder why this isn’t the orthodoxy while the rest of the rubbish that sometimes passes for Anglo-Saxon fun and entertainment is demoted to the counterculture.
For instance, a Briton screenwrote and directed the deeply disappointing The Rum Diary. Bruce Robinson? Withnail and I? Remember? Sadly even Robinson, a generation after turning British late adolescence into a scabrously funny and unforgettable awful warning, has – we intone the funerary word – matured. He scripts competently. He directs soberly. Oh dear.
You’d think he and the late gonzo author Hunter S Thompson, on whose Johnny Depp-unearthed juvenilium this is based, would be a match made in heaven: two scorching, irreverent hell-raisers. Instead this match never lights. Depp, as Thompson’s fictionalised alter ego, somnambulates through a mirthless, sparkless “comedy” of galley journalism and tyro Bohemianism in 1960s Puerto Rico.
Take the children instead– however much they may scream for rum, Caribbean jollity and Johnny Depp – to Arthur Christmas. This may be Aardman-gone-American, a defanging process much like Bruce Robinson ageing into transatlanticism, but smiles, albeit dentally challenged, strew the way. Retiring Santa (voiced by Jim Broadbent) lets his son Arthur (James McAvoy) charge across the Christmas skies with Arthur’s granddad (Bill Nighy) and a posse of pensionable reindeer. Mission? To take the last undelivered parcel from the North Pole – here a high-tech sorting office the size of the UN debating chamber – to a little girl in Trelew, England.
Shame about the digital blanding out of the Aardman style. (Bring back Plasticine). The humour remains British, lovable and downbeat-droll. “It’s some kind of woody substance, ma’am”, reports Coastal Security to a Condoleezza Rice-ish secretary of state of the sleigh straying UFO-like over Washington, “like” – pause for bewilderment – “wood”.
Mickey Rourke, dreadlocked and croakily lisping, presides over an army of baddies in Immortals. As King Hyperion he wants to end the reign of the gods. So he declares war on the Olympians – hunky deities standing around on a cliff top with page-three pectorals – and on the earthly good guys led by a similarly beefcake-ish Theseus (new Superman Henry Cavill). The film is a throwback to the old Steve Reeves sword-and-toga epics. Expect the same dialogue, dramatic values and errant homoeroticism. But spare a gasp, here, for the lavish digitised scenery commanded and controlled by Indian ex-commercials director Tarsem Singh.