Andrea Arnold To Give Us Cinema’s First Black Heathcliff

Though production has already wrapped, the key casting of Heathcliff in Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights was successfully being kept a complete and total secret. The game’s up now, though, with The Daily Mail blowing the surprise:

James Howson: The first black Heathcliff in new Andrea Arnold film.

Yep – the immediately notable thing is that Arnold’s Heathcliff is to be the first on-screen representation of the character to be black.

Back in the spring, when casting was underway, the film’s casting director Gail Stevens set out with the book’s descriptions of the character, looking to find somebody with suitable looks. From chapter one:

He is a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect…

And from chapter six:

I declare he is that strange acquisition my late neighbour made, in his journey to Liverpool—a little Lascar, or an American or Spanish castaway.

Brontë did not clearly define the character’s race, and there’s yet more references in the book that confuse things further when talking about Heathcliff’s language and his possible ancestry. One thing is clear though: she wanted us to know he wasn’t white.

The actor tapped by Arnold for the movie is the previously unknown James Howson, who will be playing opposite Skins‘ Kaya Scodelario as Cathy. Judge for yourself from the image I’ve run above, as seen at the Mail, whether or not he’s “gypsy in aspect” or “a little Lascar”.

What isn’t clear, yet, is what experience Howson had gathered prior to this role and how he was discovered, and certainly not what talents he might bring to the role. He has no obvious acting record or CV online, nowhere I can see to turn to see previous samples of his work. This is certainly a big break for the actor, and if he’s done the film proud, he may well step immediately onto the must-call lists of casting agents across the world. Fingers crossed for him then.

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