Andrea Arnold is a director renowned for her unrelenting modernity. Set on council estates, Arnold’s first two films are about being on the outside, looking in and trying to find cracks in those protective walls that we call alienation and indifference. In her directorial debut Red Road (2006), Arnold tells the story of a CCTV operator who finds herself becoming obsessed with observing a man she happens to recognise. Now used to experiencing life through a lens, the operator follows her target into a party and dances with him. Horrified by the intense colours, sounds and sensations of reality, the operator runs from the party and vomits in a lift. Seemingly, real life was just too much for her. A similar withdrawal from the world features in Arnold’s follow-up picture Fish Tank (2009) where a teenaged girl observes her mother’s relationship with a local lothario. Initially treating this interloper as a potential father figure, the girl soon finds herself being lured into the waters of adult sexuality by waves of unexpected kindness and discrete flirting. Believing she is in control of the situation, the girl pushes harder and harder at the limits of her childhood before the complexities and inequalities of adult life threaten to overwhelm her, forcing her to withdraw to a state of adolescent seclusion where everything makes sense and lessons can be learned in relative safety.
While there is no denying that Arnold’s adaptation of Emile Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1847) constitutes something of a departure for the director, the film’s novelty lies not in its period setting but in the refusal of its characters to back down when confronted by a world they do not really understand. Arnold’s Wuthering Heights is a film in which madness and obsession confront reality and reality loses.