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September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

A new adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights has premiered at the Venice Film Festival, with two black actors playing the role of Heathcliff, the role originally made famous by Laurence Olivier in the 1939 version of the novel. Solomon Glave plays him as a boy and James Howson, as a young man. Writer-director Andrea Arnold has also altered some of the dialog, sometimes radically. But critic Xan Brooks of Britain’s Guardian newspaper observes, “While purists may blanch at such liberties, Arnold’s approach does Brontë no disservice, and even if the casting of a black actor as Heathcliff makes the tale more about race than class, the seething rage that drives him might just as easily have been sparked by one form of oppression as the other.” Derek Malcolm in the London Evening Standard bestows much praise on what he calls “an audacious version” of the Brontë novel. “This is an updating in tone rather than time, often without the essential explosiveness of the book,” he writes, “But it’s one way of reinterpreting Bronte’s words and visually, at least, an extraordinary achievement.” And Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter, while noting that it will be “a tough commercial sell,” nevertheless calls the movie “As refreshing as a dawn walk in winter on the Yorkshire moors.” But Kaleem Aftab in the Independent remarks that the general reaction to the movie among the press at Venice was that of “befuddlement.” Arnold, he says, has “completely deprived the story of any romance,” turning it into “a story of emotional repression.” In taking the story into such a radical direction, he concludes, “Arnold has lost some of the magic of the text, which makes it far more difficult to have any emotional connection with the characters.”