Heathcliff is black in UK remake of Bronte's novel

Tue Sep 6, 2011 12:23pm EDT
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By Silvia Aloisi

VENICE (Reuters) - "Wuthering Heights" male protagonist Heathcliff is portrayed by a black actor for the first time in Andrea Arnold's remake of one of English literature's best-known classics, screening in competition at the Venice film festival.

The choice will probably not surprise fans of Emily Bronte's 1847 novel, where the homeless boy found by a Yorkshire farmer who then falls desperately in love with his daughter Cathy is described as a "dark-skinned gypsy in aspect" -- although his ethnicity is still the subject of debate.

Arnold stumbled by chance on two unknowns, Solomon Glave and James Howson, and cast them as the younger and older Heathcliff for her two-hour long rendering of the book.

Howson, who follows in the steps of Laurence Olivier, Timothy Dalton and Ralph Fiennes, saw an advertisement for the audition in a shop window in Leeds. "I thought you've got the face of an actor, phone the number, you've got nothing to lose," he told reporters after a press screening on Tuesday.

Overcome with emotion, Glave broke down in tears at the news conference.

Oscar-winning British director Arnold, best known for her 2009 film "Fish Tank," said it was always going to be difficult to bring to the screen one of the most read, analyzed and influential works of literature.

Unlike previous adaptations, her film gives a rawer, more gothic reading of the novel, which has become a symbol of undying love for generations of readers and inspired dramas, poems, ballets, operas and even songs. She also wanted to have actors the same age as the roles they are playing.

"To take that book and put it into a film is an impossible task and not one that anyone can do well I don't think," Arnold said.   Continued...