Top TV shows of 2016

It’s been absolutely ages since my last post but the end of the year always feels like a good time to sum up what I’ve seen.

DISCLAIMER: I have watched a lot of television this year but I have not watched all the television. So shows that I have not seen include seasons 4 of Orange is the New Black and The Americans, season 5 of Girls, season 2 of Mr Robot and debut seasons of The Night Of, Atlanta, The Young Pope and The People vs OJ Simpson. I’ve also started, but not finished, the fourth season of Braquo.

Now that that’s clear, here are my favourite TV shows of the year.

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10. Peaky Blinders (Series 3 BBC) – Probably the most stylish show Britain has to offer came back with a third series that definitely improved as it went on. After an opening couple of episodes that felt disjointed, events ramped up and we were treated to acting excellence from the always brilliant Cillian Murphy and guest stars Paddy Considine and Tom Hardy, in particular. And with a rather shocking, unexpected ending, it seems that another series is in store. Swagger.

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9. The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses (BBC) – Whether you’re a fan of Shakespeare or not, this adaptation of his three plays Henry VI Part I, Henry VI Part II and Richard III, which cover one of the most important periods in British history (The War of the Roses), is television of the highest quality. It successfully treads the line between being adapted well for television and maintaining the feel and theatricality of a play. However, featuring a raft of recognisable British actors, the main focus falls on the wonderful performances, namely of Sophie Okonedo as a Margaret of Anjou spiralling ever further into madness and an absolutely-nothing-like-Sherlock Benedict Cumberbatch as an evil, Machiavellian and monstrous Richard III. Class.

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8. Planet Earth II (BBC) – Another astonishing feat of television from the legend that is Sir David Attenborough. Through its ‘chase scenes’ (we’re all thinking of one in particular), this incredible show conjures up more tension and creates a much keener sense of investment from its audience in 5 minutes than something like the criminally overrated The Night Manager can muster in its entirety. Any programme that shows a man hand-feeding hyenas on his front step or a jaguar casually walking into a river, grabbing a crocodile by the neck and dragging it back into the jungle to be eaten is simply unmissable. Fascinating.

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7. Better Call Saul (Season 2 Netflix) – Having loved Breaking Bad I was tentative about the prospect of Better Call Saul. As a result, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I watched both seasons of the prequel and thankfully, I was more than pleasantly surprised. The show successfully juggles the act of being similar enough to its predecessor in tone and appearance while also being deep, complex and encapsulating enough to be an excellent series in its own right. Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy is as interesting a central character as any currently on TV – quite a testament to Odenkirk and the show’s creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, considering that we know how he will eventually turn out. Unpredictable.

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6. Happy Valley (Series 2 BBC) – Never has a show been so ironically named. It seems there is very little happiness in the valley where the show is set and, after the often brutal events of the first series, the second continues in much the same vein. This is no criticism however because Happy Valley is British TV at its best – raw, real and gritty. And for all the lack of happiness, there is a note-perfect streak of black humour that is woven seamlessly into the show by writer Sally Wainwright and delivered equally as well by Sarah Lancashire and Siobhan Finneran, in particular. Gritty.

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5. Line of Duty (Series 3 BBC)Line of Duty has quietly been one of the best shows on (not just British) television for a little while now. It’s a police procedural show that lays bare the mechanics of an investigation or the intricacies of an interview and turns them into some of the most nail-bitingly tense scenes on TV. It has outstanding intro and outro music as well as characters that are neither good nor bad, white nor black but are instead, complex, well-rounded, varying tones of grey – none more so than the fantastic DI Lindsay Denton played with such authenticity by Keeley Hawes. Pulsating.

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4. Stranger Things (Season 1 Netflix) – Few shows have surprised me as much as Stranger Things. When I started writing this list, I hadn’t seen it. Then I watched one episode, and less than 48 hours later I’d watched them all. It’s a bit weird and slightly mad but it’s also engaging and enjoyable with characters that you want to root for. Most of the ideas are borrowed from the 80s B-Movies (and blockbusters) that it openly, lovingly refers to but somehow, the show still feels fresh and unique. It also has an amazing soundtrack and probably the best theme tune I’ve heard in a long time. Heartfelt.

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3. Westworld (Season 1 HBO/Sky Atlantic) – Where to begin. Westworld is one of the most ambitious shows to be released in a long, long time and after a slow start did more than enough to have me counting down the days until the next episode. For all the talk of the show’s mysteries, hidden clues or multiple timelines, at the centre of its maze it is, literally, about what it means to be human. It also features career-best performances from Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton as well as strong supporting turns from Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris, amongst others and a brilliant, unsettling score. In a year that, at times, has felt as though it may be being written as part of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi series, the meta-narrative within Westworld that we witness being written, reworked and tinkered with by Hopkins’ puppet-master Dr Ford feels rather timely and apt. Enthralling.

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2. The Fall (Series 3 BBC) – Self-indulgence isn’t always a good trait for a TV show to have; too much time spent basking in its own style or mood can often be a ploy to hide a weak plot or lack of substance. The Fall is the exception to this rule. Rarely is a show so comfortable in its own skin that it dedicates real time to the development of characters and manages to create tense, thrilling scenes from conversations. Back for a third (and potentially final) series, it picks up immediately after the events of series two with serial killer Paul Spector clinging to life in the arms of the detective who’s finally caught him, DSI Stella Gibson. What ensues is powerful, tense and dramatic television at its very best. Jamie Dornan’s Spector is as compelling as his crimes are horrific but Gillian Anderson’s Stella is the real star here. Anderson performs with such authority and dignity and lends so much weight and gravitas to Stella’s words that it’s impossible to take your eyes off her. Gripping.

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1. Game of Thrones (Season 6 HBO/Sky Atlantic) – After a rather frustrating and unsteady fifth season, Game of Thrones came back to form with arguably its best season to date. In addition, some of the payoffs that viewers have been waiting for, that many feared would never come, finally came to pass. With the show’s ending now firmly in sight, it felt as though the writers provided the sense of urgency that had perhaps been lacking (possibly due to the show now moving beyond the bounds of the source material), and breathed new life into the show with plot strands coming together and revenge being taken. It’s no secret that Game of Thrones can provide jaw-dropping moments of horror like no other show on TV but this season offered some truly emotional punches too (‘Hold the door’ for example), showing that it’s more than just a one-trick pony. Visually, once again, it was excellent, with the ‘Battle of the Bastards’ episode providing one of the most visceral, unforgettable sequences (and experiences) in TV history. Epic.

Once again, 2016 was a year where I watched more TV series than films but from those that I did see, my clear favourite was the one I’ve seen most recently – Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival – which was both spectacular in its simplicity and elegant in its complexity. I also loved Alejandro González Iñárritu’s brutal, beautifully shot The Revenant, which I saw way back at the beginning of the year and, sandwiched in between, a real return to form from Pedro Almodóvar with the intensely memorable and powerful Julieta. A special mention must also go to Whit Stillman’s superbly sharp Love & Friendship (the highlight of which is Kate Beckinsale’s unforgettable performance), a film that I never thought I would even watch, let alone thoroughly enjoy.

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Only God Forgives [Winding-Refn, 2013]

 

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Only God Forgives [Winding-Refn, 2013]

In the opening scenes of Only God Forgives, the sadistic and cruel Billy (Tom Burke) murmurs that it’s “time to meet the devil”, shortly before he’s literally beaten to a pulp by the vengeful father of a young girl Billy had previously, savagely raped and killed. Devil or not, there is no doubting that we’re in hell – albeit one gorgeously rendered with murky shadows and a ravenous red hue, the seediness and depravity of Thailand’s rotten underbelly secreting its neon-infused poison into every scene.

Following Billy’s death, orchestrated by karaoke singing cop and all-round dispenser of ‘moral justice’ Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), Billy’s younger brother Julian (Ryan Gosling) is tasked with exacting revenge by their brilliantly vile mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas). What follows is a game of cat and mouse, albeit one as unsubtle as a hammer to the head.

But what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in style by the bucket load. Each scene and shot have been so painstakingly composed that it’s almost enough to make you forget that this is a film, a MOVING image – like a neo-noir nightmare version of Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Yet, it is only almost enough. Whereas Marker’s film was seminal and unique, Only God Forgives, at times, feels little more than Drive transposed to Thailand.

The film neglects to utilize Golsing’s ability to act (he can do it, see Half Nelson and Blue Valentine), instead parading him to the point of adoration in a number of flashbacks, hallucinations and dreams, always beautifully lit and framed in a nigh-on catatonic state. And too, just like Drive, the soundtrack here is pulsating – thumping throughout its 90 minute running time, only pausing for surreal moments of Chang singing karaoke, which incidentally provide some of the film’s most memorable scenes.

That said, there are signs of post-Drive evolution from Refn here. Beneath the punchy visuals of Only God Forgives, there is a core of subtext and metaphor that its predecessor perhaps lacked. This includes an excellent recurring shot of Gosling’s outstretched arms; first sliding up the thighs of his exotic dancer girlfriend, later into his mother’s disembowelled stomach and finally being removed by Chang’s justice-wielding sword. These shots invite not only Oedipal connotations but also Julian’s fear of castration – a fear perpetuated by his intense love-hate relationship with the abhorrent and domineering Crystal, and linked to his guilt about previously killing his father with his bare hands.

All in all, Only God Forgives is another excellent exercise in slick style from the Winding-Refn/Gosling partnership that does have allusions to something deeper, although perhaps it does not go quite deep enough. That said, if God can forgive, then so can I.

3.5 out 5 – Seek it out!

Perfect Sense [Mackenzie, 2011]

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Perfect Sense [Mackenzie, 2011]

David Mackenzie, directing from a Kim Fupz Aakeson script, offers an intriguing, if not perfect, take on the apocalyptic movie, of which we have seen increasing numbers (Children of Men, 28 Weeks Later, Melancholia, Contagion et al.).

In Perfect Sense, Ewan McGregor plays Michael, a slick Glaswegian sous-chef who we first see, post-coitus, politely asking a woman to leave as he’s “unable to sleep while anyone else is in the bed”. However, he soon meets Eva Green’s Susan, an emotionally damaged epidemiologist, and changes his womanizing-ways. As romance (or adaptability?) blossoms, a mysterious virus that destroys the senses begins to sweep the globe. First, smell. And then, taste. Each one accompanied by a shocking side-dish of side-effects including uncontrollable sadness and ravishing hunger.

Initially, instead of the all out panic that ensues in the likes of 28 Days Later and Children of Men, people simply adapt. As the foreboding, yet occasionally clunky, narration (Green, herself) tells us “life goes on”. And so it does, beautifully. Mackenzie and director of photography Giles Nuttgens do a spine-tingling job of heightening audience senses as the characters slowly lose theirs with their hand-held camera and majestic lighting. In this way, the film calls to mind Lars von Trier’s equally visually vibrant Melancholia.

Visuals aside, the film at time lacks direction. Although the premise is thought-provoking and a new twist on the genre, Perfect Sense is never quite bold enough to explore the big questions it threatens to ask. At the same time, the love story at the centre of it all is a little nonsensical and on occasion, just plain unconvincing. McGregor and Green never quite seem to spark in a way as to engross you within their plight. And considering the film is largely based around a series of moments and connections between these two leads, on the whole, you’re left with the feeling that proceedings are all just a bit too superficial.

That said, as the senses continue to evaporate, emotions become sharper, culminating in a uniquely engaging final 10 minutes that are as good as anything the film has to offer – including a fleetingly poignant post-deafness moment, in which Michael returns to the alleyway outside Susan’s apartment building , standing in the spot where he used to whistle to get her attention – a subtle and sensory moment of connection, now gone in the blink of an eye.

So as the world ends with a hug described in darkness, Mackenzie’s gorgeously shot film makes perfect stylistic sense, it’s just a shame that the story at the centre of it is not quite so finely-tuned.

3 out of 5 – Worth a watch.

What goes around, comes around

Last night, I sat myself down to finally watch the director’s cut of Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void [2009]. At 160 minutes, it’s a tough viewing experience – but then, having seen the director’s harrowing and hypnotic Irreversible [2002] (a partner-piece in style and tone to Enter the Void), and with the addition into the mix of hallucinatory drugs, this was always going to be more magic mushroom phantasm than Magic Roundabout.

The opening scenes are shot in claustrophobic p.o.v. from the perspective of protagonist-of-sorts, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a young American drug dealer and escalating junkie. We see only through his glazed and unfocused eyes, right up until the moment he is gunned down by police while frantically scrabbling to flush his stash in a filthy Tokyo nightclub cubicle. Post-mortem, he continues to be our peephole as his soul vacates his defunct body and floats above and through the grimy, garish streets and bars of the seedy Tokyo underworld.

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Noé’s swirling camera never stops moving, and his pounding, pulsating soundtrack mash-up never stops playing, marrying wonderfully with the myriad of cyclical imagery that was also so prevalent in Irreversible. Indeed, the unexpected commercial and critical success of this previous film finally enabled Void, a long time passion project for the Argentinean born director, to come to fluorescent fruition. The camera finds, quite literally, every hole and orifice that it can to enter, as Oscar’s floating spirit attempts to keep a watchful eye over those he’s left behind.

Despite being a psychedelic, nightmarish vision of somewhere between purgatory and hell (a kind of counterpoint to Terrence Malick’s heavenly The Tree of Life [2011]), there is only one real scene of explicit violence, and instead it is the copious amounts of lucid sex, including one now notorious “internal” shot of a vagina (I did say literally every orifice), that caused the most controversy upon the film’s release.

The fallout from Oscar’s death is inter-cut with blurred flashbacks, hallucinatory fantasies and surreal nightmares – all of which Oscar views with an almost passive detachment (arguably befitting of a spirit), but also one, it is later revealed, that he has seemingly displayed throughout his natural life.

In contrast to the quiet Oscar is his damaged and vulnerable sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), who yells, screams, sobs and moans her way through proceedings in an incredibly committed performance from de la Huerta. Never more vividly and viscerally is this juxtaposition shown than in a repeated and gut-wrenching scene in which the young siblings witness their parents’ mutilation and death in a car crash. As a muted Oscar watches helplessly on, his terrified, blood soaked sister screams uncontrollably at the horror before her scarred eyes – it’s a shriek that stays with you long after the film’s end.

In addition to the abundant cyclical imagery, it soon becomes clear, in fact from the opening suggestive scene, that Linda is also the primary object of his transferred oedipal eye. We see flashbacks including explicit and more subtle mother-son Freudian imagery, and an adult Oscar also has an affair with his best friend’s mother (an act that inadvertently leads to his death). However, it is arguably Linda who remains the foremost object of his confused gaze.

It’s difficult to say that you enjoy a film such as Enter the Void but it’s undoubtedly an interesting and inflammatory effort, that has the magic touch of keeping you glued to the screen when perhaps you most want to look away. Rich with imagery and metaphor, it heightens Noé’s position as one of the best and most provocative auteurs around. So, if a tangled fibre-optic web of oedipal obsession played out against a kaleidoscopic trip of neon tubes in the seedy Tokyo underworld takes your fancy, then look no further, and enter the void.

Crime trilogy review

I shall begin with Killer Joe [Friedkin, 2012] because, well, it demands it. The theatrical poster described the film as ‘A totally twisted, deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story’ and that’s pretty much bang on.

Adapted from her own play by Tracy Letts, this is one of the most surreal, horrifically funny yet disgustingly demented films I’ve ever seen. Some of the acting, particularly in the opening scenes, is a bit ropey and Thomas Haden Church who plays the role of slow, clueless and emotionally vacant father Ansel delivers most of his lines with such a staggering lack of conviction that it’s difficult to tell whether he’s really bad or really good.

On the flipside of this grimy coin of a movie is Matthew McConaughey, who plays the eponymous policeman-come-hitman. I’ve never been a fan but here, he stalks the screen like a reptilian angel of death clad in Western bad-guy black and never ceases to menace, ratcheting up the tension with every flick of his lighter or carefully articulated word.

The violence is grotesque to the point of absurdity, but the mood and tone is pure film noir, albeit, mutated to a new level of moribundity, depravity and vile amorality. It is safe to say that southern-fried chicken will never look the same again.

On a not too dissimilar vein of violence and morality is Cell 211 [Monzón, 2009], in which a fresh-faced and seemingly naive young prison guard becomes inadvertently embroiled in a prison riot and finds that the best way to survive is to pretend he’s a fellow inmate and cosy up to the brilliantly named head-honcho, Malamadre (the excellent Luis Tosar).

The pace is steady as we flit between the lawless prison and the ‘outside world’, where prison guards and officials are inhibited by protocols, political pressure and an inability to decide the best course of action. Monzón steadily builds the tension as the plot twists and turns and prison guard Juan’s (Alberto Ammann) position becomes increasingly fragile due to mistrust on both sides of the cell door.  A good taut thriller that certainly pulls no punches and is all the better for it.

Lastly, French crime auteur Olivier Marchal’s most recent effort A Gang Story [2011] tells a tale of deep-seated loyalty between a group of aging gangsters known as Les Lyonnais. Gypsy, Momon Vidal (Gérard Lanvin), is nearing 60 and is looking to put his notorious bank-robbing and murderous past firmly behind him. Yet, as is always the case with such types, it’s easier said than done. The re-arrival of Momon’s former right-hand man Serge (Tchéky Karyo) throws this quiet life into turmoil and Momon finds himself getting increasingly drawn back into a world he thought he’d left behind.

Admittedly, the premise is nothing new and A Gang Story certainly won’t go down as a classic but nobody quite does the gangster/crime genre as well as the French and at the moment, Marchal, is just behind Jacques Audiard at the head of the queue (just check out O.M’s ongoing TV series Braquo for a top quality twisted taste of crime, loyalty, morality and brotherhood). A certainly watchable but as easily forgettable film that doesn’t quite live up to the lofty standards of Audiard’s The Beat that my Heart Skipped (2005) and A Prophet (2009) or TV offerings Braquo and Engrenages.

Killer Joe – 3.5 out of 5

Cell 211 – 4 out of 5

A Gang Story – 2.5 out 5

Sleeping Beauty [Leigh, 2011]

Thomas (Eden Falk), Lucy (Emily Browning) and Clara (Rachael Blake)

Sleeping Beauty (2011)

Directed by Julia Leigh

3.5 out 5

Australian author Julia Leigh decided to turn her hand to filmmaking in 2011 with the attention grabbing Sleeping Beauty. In this controversial debut feature, nihilistic university student Lucy (played with almost ice-cold detachment by Emily Browning) escalates her way up the ladder of very particular and ‘high class’ prostitution; prostitution that is, with “no penetration” – the one golden rule that hostess/glorified madame Clara (Rachael Blake) repeatedly tells her exclusively geriatric clients. Lucy, who sleepwalks her way through day jobs cleaning a restaurant and working in an office with all the enthusiasm of a dead fish, allows herself to be drugged whilst saggy, decrepit, lonely, but inevitably rich old men do what they want with her. These are the lecherous, lascivious and sexually repressed men found in the films of Luis Buñuel (Tristana and Viridiana in particular) transported to the high society world of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Whilst Lucy is unaware of what happens whilst she sleeps, we are made privy to large sections of her ordeals, in which three separate clients, all seemingly clinging to life by their fingertips, use her as they will. Many of these scenes have been labelled ‘uncomfortable’ in subsequent reviews. Uncomfortable is sleeping on a sofa and waking up with a crooked neck – what happens while Lucy is asleep is at once sad, debauched and terrifying, but always excruciating viewing (particularly during the ‘interactions’ with Man 2 (Chris Haywood)).

The glacial nature of the work of Michael Haneke or of Ulrich Seidl’s Import/Export is crystalised across the screen throughout Sleeping Beauty. Yet in spite of, or perhaps partially due to, these favourable comparisons, Leigh’s film feels as though it is lacking something. Indeed, that Sleeping Beauty conjures memories of the films and directors mentioned above highlights that it’s premise is nothing new. Equally, just as Clara insists on “no penetration” thus rendering Lucy impenetrable (we are never 100% sure if this rule is adhered to, yet no sexual act is ever explicitly shown) so she is also impenetrable to us as an audience. In fact, the only scenes in which Lucy’s pure and virginal body is visibly infiltrated are when she voluntarily takes part in medical trials for money and has a plastic tube fed down her throat. These sequences themselves are difficult viewing due mainly to Lucy’s uncontrollable gagging and the connotations drawn with her newest ‘job’. That said, the film is equal parts transfixing and repulsive viewing, and all the more captivating for it.

We are never quite sure what makes Lucy tick. There appears to be a willful self-destruction, a desire to suffer and push herself as far as she can, regardless of consequences. This could perhaps be linked to an air of guilt concerning her alcoholic friend/spurned lover, Birdman (Ewen Leslie), with whom she enacts an almost fantasy quasi-marriage/family situation – paradoxically her only real relationship in the film.

But despite it’s name Sleeping Beauty is certainly no fairytale. Leigh’s detached and often static camera keeps us focused when we want to look away, like a malfunctioning magic mirror, mirror on the wall that only shows us what it wants us to see. It will be interesting to see if the director continues with this theme and feel in her next feature, assuming that hopefully there is one. But as this film comes towards its conclusion curiosity gets the better of Lucy and she decides that she wants to go through the looking glass, to know what happens as the beauty sleeps. What she awakes to however, is nothing short of a nightmare.

Wuthering Heights (Arnold, 2011)

Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer as the young Heatchliff and Catherine

Wuthering Heights (2011)

Andrea Arnold

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***** out of 5

Having dealt with complex, and often taboo, relationships in her two previous films Red Road (woman and the man who killed her family) and Fish Tank (mother-daughter, daughter and mother’s boyfriend), Andrea Arnold seems an ideal candidate to take on the classic tale of torturous love that is Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Her new retelling may not be exactly what ardent Bronte fans had in mind, it is however, all the better for it.

The story of Catherine and Heathcliff has been retold numerous times in the guise of lavish costume dramas, amid the odd international take, and starring the likes of Laurence Olivier, Juliette Binoche and Tom Hardy to name but a few. Arnold’s version has neither merchant ivory production values nor star names, instead choosing to cast two sets of virtually unknown actors to play younger and older versions of the ill-fated couple. It proves to be a good move, as the younger of the quartet Shannon Beer and Solomon Glave in particular, give what are at times, colossal performances.

The film begins at the eponymous cottage, isolated and vulnerable against the enraged elements. Mr Earnshaw (Paul Hilton), a devout Christian, returns home from Liverpool with a young semi-literate boy (Glave) to the initial, seemingly universal, distaste of his family home – comprising of his son Hindley (Lee Shaw), daughter Cathy (Beer) and servants Nelly (Simone Jackson) and Joseph (Steve Evets). The arrival of this boy, whom Mr Earnshaw names Heathcliff, irks Hindley, as he subsequently loses the attentions of his ailing father, and following a number of fractious altercations between the pair, Hindley is sent off to college. Prior to this, and indeed following it, Heathcliff and the mischievous, tomboyish Cathy become inseparable; lost in a haze of childhood innocence, and awakening adolescent lust. Mr Earnshaw’s death and Hindley’s subsequent return brutally severs their burdening and intense relationship however, and Cathy soon draws the attentions of the well-to-do, snobby Edgar Linton (Jonny Powell) – the cheese to Heathcliff’s chalk.

It is in these early scenes, found in the first half of the film, that the deep bond between Heathcliff and Cathy is most incredibly and poetically rendered. As one would perhaps expect from a Wuthering Heights adaptation, and indeed from an Arnold film, symbolism is rife throughout. There are a number of cutaways showing pairs of animals for example – we are shown hawks as they hover and soar with graceful abandon and freedom, the household dogs aggressively and vigorously chase one another, displaying a raw and basic desire for animalistic sex, and two moths trapped near a window, repeatedly buzzing and bumping against it, unable to escape – multi-faceted metaphors of the complex, all-consuming nature of the relationship on display. What Arnold is giving us is not love in the sense of romance; this is pure, raw, primal desire and obsession. Heathcliff does not merely love Cathy; she envelops his very soul, intoxicating him to the point of self-destruction. Even their most tender, touching moments together are laced with sensuality and physical yearning. On one such occasion, Heathcliff gently strokes the bare flesh of Cathy’s horse as they ride together, as he simultaneously becomes inebriated with the scent of her hair and the nape of her neck. Furthermore, what begins as a play-fight in the soil becomes heavily charged with eroticism and sexual power-play as a forceful Heathcliff reverses the roles that the societal class system has dealt them, pinning Cathy to the ground. Whilst at another instance the animalism is further underlined, as a young Cathy licks the blood from the wounds of her injured playmate.

Immediately following the switch of actors for the second half of the film, it is almost as if Heathcliff himself has changed also. The mise-en-scene becomes slightly less bleak. The rain subsides, it is sunnier, calmer, more refined – as is he. He is better able to articulate himself now, no more hissing bile or corporal explosions of illiterate impotence. Yet this apparent change is short lived, as his uncontrollable side soon seeps back in. Seeing Cathy resets him and the harsh, unforgiving moors mirror this, as the whirling wind begins to swirl things up once again. Thus although Heathcliff returns as a gentleman, in appearance at least, everything he has left behind has rotted and decayed; cutaways only show single animals now, apples putrefy within a matter of scenes. His Cathy is embittered, wicked and cruel, whilst he is wrought and twisted with a mix of anguish and emptiness. The film comes almost full circle as move unstoppably towards the final crescendo, and we are taken back to its angry, pain-filled and expressive pre-credit sequence; Heathcliff viciously, wearily slams himself into a wall – drawing parallels to a similar scarring scene of self-abuse in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, in which another caged animal, boxer Jake La Motta, repeatedly punches and head-butts his prison cell wall – simultaneously punishing himself and attempting to release his emotions the only way he knows how. We’re a million miles away from Olivier, Fiennes or a bad-boy version of Mr Darcy here. Glave and Howson’s Heathcliff is a raw, savage animal; a wounded lion, tormented and tortured.

In addition to the sensual barrage provided by the imagery and diagetic soundtrack, and indeed to perhaps reinforce it, Arnold is incredibly sparse in terms of dialogue – a brave move when adapting from a literary classic. Her film however is about feeling, not talking about them. It remains that Cathy and Heathcliff do not live ‘happily ever after’, at least partly, because of their inability to communicate their feelings and desires to one another. In this sense, the director and co-writer Olivia Hetreed get it spot on. And just as consumers of Bronte’s novel do not just ‘read’ it, often becoming absorbed by it, so Wuthering Heights is not simply ‘viewed’. Its audience is engulfed by the very soul of the tale; dragged through the mire of the moors, lashed by relentless rain, enveloped by groping gales as Robbie Ryan’s cinematography simultaneously astounds and evokes. And as it ends, after two hours beset with forceful, relentless wuthering, it is clear that Arnold’s film has managed to achieve quite astonishing new heights.