Andrea Arnold’s film version of Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” presents a seemingly authentic portrayal of life in rural Yorkshire, England in the mid 1800’s. The film follows the relationship between Heathcliff (James Howson), a poor black orphan and Catherine (Kaya Scodelario), a farmer’s daughter.
Arnold became known for her unmistakable filmmaking style in 2009 when she directed the haunting drama “Fish Tank.” The film, about a troubled teen (Katie Jarvis) who finds herself drawn to her mother’s charismatic boyfriend (Michael Fassbender), debuted at the Cannes Film Festival–where it won the Jury Prize and established Arnold as one of the most promising rising directors.
Moviehole had the chance to sit down with Arnold to discuss the film.
When adapting the film, you chose to forgo using musical score. Was that something you decided to do before production began or did the idea of using natural sounds materialize during shooting?
It was a conscious choice from very early on. I wanted it to be a very visceral experience—so that for me means not just the visual aspects but what you’re hearing. I wondered what it felt like or what it sounded like (in the 1800’s) when there was no electricity, no televisions, no cars, no radios, no electrical anything. I thought that a world without electricity must have sounded very different. I remember telling the sound designer that I didn’t want there to be anything that sounded like electricity. We talked at the beginning about using some sounds to give the film some sort of tone and atmosphere but we ended up taking all of that away. It just seemed like too much.
He started using very natural sounds so he recorded things like boats and creaking wood. Whenever I’d been up to the house, I’d notice that the wind—depending on the hour will sound different. It would come through the trees, the door, and the chimney and it sounded like music. I thought ‘Why do you need music when you’ve got all of that beautiful stuff going on.’ So I always wanted it to be quite raw and quite visceral and to use what was really there.
For “Wuthering Heights” you used non-actors. That was also the case with “Fish Tank.” How have you managed to successfully work with a mix of newcomers and non-professionals?
It’s not easy, it’s a baptism by fire for them and it’s not easy for me either. You don’t know if it’s going to work and it’s a massive risk. I believe that if they have a quality that is right for that character that somehow that will win through–even when we can’t quite get the scene right–that essential quality will be there. But it’s not easy and when we started filming, a lot of the people were non-actors and these are people who have never done anything like this and we literally approached them on the street and said, ‘Do you fancy being in a film?’ Before they knew it, they were being driven up to the moors, somewhere that many of them haven’t been.
Some were street kids who I put in these old fashioned cloths and I remember thinking, ‘What the hell are we all doing here?’ but it’s amazing and I take my hat off to them really because they pushed themselves in ways that I didn’t think they could do.
You have to be careful I think.
Your adaptation of “Wuthering Heights” is unlike other film versions of the story. Had you seen many of them before working on this project?
I haven’t seen any. I did see the Lawrence Oliver version when I was eight—so I saw it a very long time ago and haven’t seen it since. I thought it would be better not to. Whenever I work on a project, I try not to watch things that are similar because I don’t want to be influenced. I want it to come out of my own head.
There’s very little dialogue in the film. How did you manage to convey so much of the story through imagery alone?
I don’t know (laughs). I tried to write with very little dialogue so that I could focus on what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling. I tried to get inside their heads with the writing and also with the filming. I’m always thinking about that and I’m trying to convey it but I’m not sure exactly how I do it.