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Sunday, 25 October 2009

Heathcliff the scrubbed-up oik

Richard Wilcocks reports on yesterday evening's event:

“I first read Wuthering Heights when I was sixteen,” director Coky Giedroyc tells the audience in Haworth. “I think it spoke to my innermost gothic self.”

Screenwriter Peter Bowker says that he stumbled through the novel in his teenage years: “My first strong memory is of the black and white Hollywood film, but I read it at university and I adored it……..

I had to return to my brutal younger self when I was choosing what to cut and what not to cut. The book is the work, of course, and I am doing a take on it, what a musician calls a cover version………ultimately, it is a redemptive version……..

I was told things like ‘Unless you are doing Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you won’t get away with it’, but I was determined to keep in the gothic and supernatural elements.”

We watch a clip, one of several. Heathcliff looks at the fresh gravestone for Catherine Linton and starts wielding his spade, watched by a distant figure behind an upstairs window. He reaches the wood of the coffin lid quickly and tears it open with ease. Cathy’s beautiful face is in his mind, and he sees it down there, but there’s also a glimpse of a skull.

Coky Giedroyc speaks: “It seems sacred…..a lot of people think they own the characters…….

This was the first time I have understood Heathcliff…….huge and rock-like….a fulcrum……..Peter got inside his soul….”

“Writing it felt like a conversation with Emily Brontë…..there are certain key speeches which can’t be lost…..it’s more of an extended prose poem than a novel……….I often put the dialogue reported by Nelly Dean back into the characters’ mouths” says Peter Bowker.

“My dialogue filled in gaps….I was responsible for the card game….I had to show that debauched moment.”

Poet James Nash asks questions. He is there to engage the pair in conversation and to bring out significant insights, which he does with wit and charm. Dryness is not in order this evening. It’s a kind of family affair, part of a pleasant weekend visit to the Parsonage and the village. Both of the speakers have their mothers with them (in the audience) and everybody is smiling. The pair talk briefly about their collaboration on Blackpool, then about the casting. Coky Giedroyc begins:

“Casting was a long journey………we needed a brave and dangerous performer for Heathcliff……there’s few that can do it, but there’s so many who want to do it. I was getting live links from LA.

I was confident that Tom Hardy would be brave……and grubby and……a little bit random. He played that graveyard scene absolutely from his solar plexus…..you have to embrace the gothic but also the emotional truth.

As for Cathy, we kept on coming back to Charlotte Riley…..she brought a minxy, compulsive quality to the character……but she still is able to elicit sympathy…

To cast Andrew Lincoln as Edgar makes Cathy’s decision to marry much more understandable. He’s not the weedy opposite to the Byronic Heathcliff that we often see.”

“Andrew’s Edgar contrasts well with Heathcliff, the scrubbed-up oik,” adds Peter Bowker. “Tom was just the actor for that……he’s a playful actor……

When I first started on this, I was thinking I would have three Cathys and three Heathcliffs to cope with times and ages, but then you would have to have three of all the others…”

We watch a clip set in Thrushcross Grange. Nelly comes in gasping as Heathcliff threatens Edgar with a poker. Emily Brontë does not write all that much about Thrushcross, but there’s plenty of detail here. It speaks of a squire’s wealth, but it is pale and quiet, calm and comfortable in contrast to Wuthering Heights.

Question time arrives. A woman thanks the pair at the front for providing her eight year-old daughter (who is with her) with an excellent experience. She has watched the DVD several times. There is a question about the novel’s ambiguity. In the novel it is not clear what Cathy and Heathcliff actually do with each other. Does Cathy really understand what she is doing anyway? Why is their relationship so steamy in this television version?

“We had to strip away the ambiguity to make the story work on screen,” comes the reply from Peter Bowker.

I ask, “Why did you go down the gypsy route so firmly with Heathcliff? Did you consider the Irish interpretation, with the young boy speaking Gaelic? Or a mixed-race Heathcliff found in Liverpool, the slave port?”

And, of course, Peter Bowker had considered all of those: “We had to fit it to the chosen actor. I did think about the Irish connection though.”


1 comment:

  1. After having a most enjoyable evening at Haworth listening to James Nash talking with Coky Giedroyc and Peter Bowker I did leave a few comments after reading your excellent account of the event.
    I am not sure if you have received what I attempted to send- probably pressed a wrong key or something- and not wanting to bombard you with stuff you do not want I have not resubmitted. I hope that, if I do not see any ramblings from me on the blog within a few days, it would be acceptable to you for me to send them again.
    I,somewhat an ignoramus, thank you for everything you personally submit, which hopefully in time may redress the balance!

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