Compared to the novel by Emily Brontë, the 2011 adaptation by Andrea Arnold differs in a couple different aspects. The movie does not reveal the true intensity of the malice behind certain characters, specifically Catherine. On pages 54-56 (vol. 1, ch. 9), the audience sees, at least through Ms. Dean’s perspective, the nasty attitude Catherine displays. After feeling tension over her internal conflict about her two worlds/personalities coming together and how to balance that with the relationships she’s already established, she snaps at Heathcliff, calling him stupid and acknowledging that she did not even care about all the time she spent with the Lintons, even though it was obvious Heathcliff did (Brontë 55). Shortly after, while Edgar is in the room, she picks a fight with Nelly where she pinches her, tries to lie about it, and slaps Nelly when she’s frustrated that Nelly doesn’t let her get away with it, then ends up slapping Edgar as well (Brontë 56). Arnold’s adaptation seems to skip over this faucet of Cathy’s personality, perhaps because it is told largely in Heathcliff’s point of view (lacking the narration from Nelly), and Heathcliff favors Cathy incredibly. Arnold’s adaptation picks up to the moment Cathy convinces Edgar to stay, skipping all the violence, but including her cruel attitude to Heathcliff (1:01 – 1:03). Cathy is salvaged by the film’s portrayal of her character, making everything else she does seem that much more redeemable. In the novel she is a mess.
Andrea Arnold’s casting of Heathcliff as a black man, I think was something I overlooked to be a possibility in the novel, but I think it works for the film adaptation (while I am weary of using black people to remix white stories…) as it add layers to each character’s personality. In the novel, it is easy to understand the attitudes to Heathcliff as that resulting from difference in region or class, like when Cathy returns from Thrushcross Grange and tells Heathcliff “How very black and cross you look,” my first reaction was not to take her literally to mean that Heathcliff is black, but instead dirty from the hard work and lack of hygienic care which is to be expected of the working class (Brontë 43). Other excerpts from Heathcliff saying he wishes for “light hair and fair skin,” perhaps are other signifiers of class, but Arnold introducing race to the equation I think is a method of modernizing the story for audiences in 2011 who don’t understand the intensity of the social/working/class order of the 19th century (Brontë 45). I think the adaptation works in certain ways, in terms of modernizing the text and adding layers to the characters the audience could understand more the internal conflict for the characters.