The first time Heathcliff (James Howson and Solomon Glave) met Cathy (Kaya Scodelario and Shannon Beer) she spat in his face, which set the scene for the stormy relationship to follow. He was found by her father Mr Earnshaw (Paul Hilton) and taken back to his home on the Yorkshire Moors, a windswept and inhospitable region of England where a number of hardy souls farmed the land, and a handful of noblemen and women owned much of that area. That Heathcliff was of African descent was always going to prove a problem for the locals, but for Cathy, she didn't care at all...
There's a sketch in The Kentucky Fried Movie which concerns itself with "Feel-Around", the next dimension in the cinematic experience which means you can feel what the characters in the movie do. You can imagine that if this pioneering technique had been available to the director of this version of Wuthering Heights Andrea Arnold she would have jumped at it, not because she wanted her audience to feel the full brunt of the fists and kicks that Heatchcliff and company suffer, but so she could bring the tactile quality of her impressions of the Emily Bronte novel to life. As it was, you had to make do with a heightened soundtrack and many extreme closeups.
This did supply an incredibly vivid texture of the place, with its constant gales combined with the torrential rain lashing you, the grass and bracken under your feet and running through your fingers, the horses you ride and so on, so much care being given to conjuring up as far as the sound and sight of the moors that you couldn't help but have the impression of actually being there: who needed 3D? As with other versions of the classic story, Arnold picked and chose what she wanted to include, presumably because if she'd shot the second half of the novel his would have lasted a good four hours; as ever, it was the Heatchcliff and Cathy romance which provided the main focus.
This would have been top notch if the care and attention given to the mise-en-scène had been extended to the performances, but sadly that was where the film let you down. It wasn't that they were particularly awful, in fact most were perfectly fine, but they just did not live up to the tangible elements that they were set in. Howson had been discovered as an unemployed unknown, and his lack of experience showed when it was revealed his voice had been dubbed, especially as that didn't appear to make much difference to the effectiveness of the emotions. Another drawback was that the actors playing the older incarnations of the lovers didn't come across as the same people as the teens playing the younger ones.
So ironically for a novel of two halves you had a film of two halves, only not the same two halves. The first here being the childhood of Heathcliff and Cathy where their love was kindled, then the second and slightly less impressive being them grown up and seeing other people, yet still pining for one another. Arnold added a racial angle which may have been in the source, but with Heathcliff being black in the white world of England centuries past made this a bid for more contemporary relevance, something which could have been insufferably right on but was actually a refreshing take on a venerable text. It did see Heathcliff adopt a liking for rolling around or simply lying on the countryside to emphasise his link to nature and the landscape, which was more evident in the visuals than it was in any one actor's interpretation, but this was a case of the ambience telling you more than anything else in the movie. If Arnold had delivered the same intensity in her cast, this would be more than a qualified success.