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The new 'Wuthering Heights' trailer: an overdue casting choice

Literary Screening Room

September 10, 2012|By Carolyn Kellogg

Fans of Emily Brontë's 1847 novel "Wuthering Heights" may notice something unusual about the latest adaptation, slated to open in America on Oct. 5. Brooding heartthrob Heathcliff doesn't look like the typical Englishman of the moors -- he's played by black actors James Howson (as an adult) and Solomon Glave (as a boy).

This is, in fact, something like Brontë intended from the start. In her novel, Heathcliff is introduced to us as "a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect." He is "a little Lascar," which was a 19th century term for sailors from India and thereabouts. Tall, dark and handsome -- he was all three.

Filmmakers have previously detoured away from representing any kind of racial difference, casting white actors such as Ralph Fiennes and Laurence Olivier in the role.

The new movie's director, Andrea Arnold, told Film4: "For me, it was quite clear in the book that he was dark skinned. He gets called a little Lascar, which would have been an Indian seaman, and Nelly says, ‘Who knows but your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen.’ I think it’s very clear that he wasn’t white. I think his difference was certainly very important in my story and very important in the book.”

So in some ways, Arnold's vision seems to stick closer to the text. In others, it doesn't -- for example, Brontë didn't write the racial slurs that are now in the script.

For those of us who haven't seen the film yet, it's impossible to tell if Arnold has hit the mark or gone too far. But judging by the trailer, the moors and the mood look compellingly Brontë-like.

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