This month sees the release of a new adaptation of Wuthering Heights, in which the director Andrea Arnold moves from the contemporary council estates of Glasgow (Red Road) and London (Fish Tank) to the wild countryside of nineteenth century Yorkshire.
In 1964 Lindsay Anderson unsuccessfully attempted to film his own version of the novel. Buoyed by the success of his 1963 film This Sporting Life Anderson developed the project with the film’s writer, David Storey, and star, Richard Harris. Anderson’s experience of directing Harris on This Sporting Life had been an explosive, bruising affair but such was his desire to work with the actor that he noted in his diary his “inability to think concretely of any project – except in terms of Richard Harris”. Anderson saw Harris as the perfect lead for his version of Wuthering Heights, as indeed did the actor. In April 1964 Anderson visited Harris in Mexico City, where he was shooting the western Major Dundee, to discuss the project. After being shown to his room Anderson found a note on his pillow written by Harris – it read “I am Heathcliff”.
Anderson’s papers include some fascinating material relating to this proposed adaptation including correspondence, scripts, progress reports and location photographs. Anderson’s diaries also provide an account of the project’s development. In David Storey’s adaptation the doomed romance at the centre of the story ends in a rather dramatic fashion with Heathcliff stealing Cathy’s body from her coffin and taking her to Wuthering Heights. He is followed by an angry mob that sets fire to the house, Heathcliff dying in a raging inferno with Cathy in his arms. Notes written by Richard Harris in April 1964 commenting on Storey’s script are also present. Harris didn’t like the ending devised by Storey – he instead suggested a more romantic end for Heathcliff and Cathy. The mob burns an empty Wuthering Heights and the following morning, when their anger has subsided, they find Heathcliff lying dead, next to Cathy’s body, on the moors.
By the summer of 1964 Harris began to succumb to the lure of Hollywood and started to show a reluctance to work with Anderson in England. His behaviour increasingly annoyed and frustrated Anderson. In a letter to his agent Sandy Liberson in April 1965 Anderson reflected on the change in his relationship with Harris, noting that “It really seems to me that his ‘success’ of the past eight or nine months has changed Richard. Or shall I say taken him beyond the sphere in which he and I can work together?”
It was around this time that Anderson (reluctantly) came to realise that the projects he was developing for Harris would not come to fruition and gave up on the idea of directing Harris in Wuthering Heights – indeed after months of planning he never even got as far as casting a Cathy to Harris’ Heathcliff. The material relating to Wuthering Heights is part of a fascinating series of files detailing the various unrealised projects which Anderson attempted to produce including historical epics, noir remakes, literary adaptations and a sequel to his 1968 film If…. For those interested in the ‘what ifs’ of cinema history a chapter on Anderson’s unmade films can be found in the book Sights Unseen: Unfinished British Films.
Giving seminars to students which introduce them to the wide range of materials held in our collections allows us to open up the boxes and display some of the items we hold. When putting together a selection of material for a seminar this week I came across this wonderful pamphlet in our Tait and Watson collection. Written in 1938 it lays out the ambitious plans put forward by the Communist Party for the improvement of Edinburgh. Buoyed by a huge increase in the Labour and Communist vote in Edinburgh municipal elections the pamphlet proposed “ten years of construction for the capital.” The improvements suggested included an extension of Princes Street and the creation of boulevards, gardens and floodlit fountains like those in Brussels; the removal of the slums found in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat and the construction of 3,000 new municipal houses every year; and the development of Portobello’s seaside attractions with the addition of a new pier and a tower to rival those in Blackpool and Paris.
The Tait and Watson collection consists of material relating to the history of left wing politics in Scotland collected by William Tait, son of the Scottish Socialist pioneer Thomas Tait, and William Watson, a politically-active Clydeside welder and collector. It includes books, newspapers, pamphlets and the archives of a number of small Edinburgh-based left wing parties who were active in the first half of the twentieth century. The pamphlet collection includes over 3,000 titles on a variety of national and international topics and provides a first-hand illustration of the political debate that was generated by such major events as the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. Full details of the pamphlets can be found on our library catalogue – do a classmark search for ‘Watson pamphlet’ or ‘Tait pamphlet’ to get an idea of the range of title and topics included.