Picturesque, pastoral and dirty
Uncivilised topographies in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights
in British rural landscapes on film
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A number of contemporary British heritage films signal significant changes in the genre, particularly in terms of their representation of the landscape. Gone are the idyllic English pastoral scenes which present images suitable for National Trust frontispieces. Instead the spectator is presented with the harsh realities of rural life in the nineteenth century, and the countryside relates more to what Andrew Higson (2011) terms ‘dirty realism’: an expression describing films that recount medieval England as bleak and inhospitable, its landscapes hazardous places to inhabit. Indeed, many of the current crop of British costume dramas present wild, rugged settings corresponding to Higson’s definition. Not only are they devoid of the picturesque traits of their predecessors, instead they evoke a sense of menace wrought from their use of landscape. This chapter charts the trajectory of the various substantial debates around landscape and heritage, before focusing on a number of more recent productions. Albeit the films discussed are adaptations from classic literature, through their rural imagery many contemporary films, including Wuthering Heights (Arnold 2011) and Jane Eyre (Fukanaga 2011), appear visually more realist than heritage in style.

Editor: Paul Newland

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