staring out across the wild and rugged North Yorkshire Moors, sculptor Jennifer Tetlow carefully blew the dust off a headstone as she carved out the words “Heathcliff Earnshaw”.
As she chiselled the name of Emily Bronte’s anti-hero, she found herself cast under a spell of “intensity and passion” as she was whisked away into the fictional world of Wuthering Heights.
The sculptor was chosen by Goldcrest Films to carve the stonework for four headstones, which will appear in award-winning British director Andrea Arnold’s latest big screen adaptation of the 1847 windblown romance novel.
Based in her Lastingham workshop, on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, Miss Tetlow was the obvious choice for the film’s artistic director, who had spotted her impressive work at an exhibition.
Miss Tetlow said: “Obviously it was a lovely job to consider doing. I did a lot of drawings of lettering and there were a lot of discussions about the type of script that was used at the time, as they wanted an authentic look. We came to a decision about the script style and I set to work doing the stones for them.”
Shot in several remote moorland locations across the Yorkshire Dales, the director was keen to ensure the stones reflected the bleak and dramatic atmosphere of the film, which she has described as “dark and profound”.
Miss Tetlow had the answer. “The stone we used was lovely and I got it from a local stoneyard, called Dring Stone Ltd, in Hartoft – a tiny little hamlet five miles from here, which was fantastic,” she said. “I sought help and advice and they helped us select a sandstone called Lingberry, which had beautiful moorland colouring in it.
“The film crew were thrilled because it was perfect for the atmosphere they wanted to create.”
The sculptor frequently worked long into the night carefully hand-chiselling the stones, each one taking around a week to complete.
“It seemed very fitting to be chiselling away at Yorkshire sandstone, with the moorland all around, for a story which was such a huge part of my childhood and set in the moors – brooding, emotional and romantic. I couldn’t help feel some of the intensity and passion of the story as I carved,” she said.
“There were times when the night was drawing in and I felt myself actually in the story. It was a bit like a spell, because I was carving the name Heathcliff Earnshaw and the whole thing was very atmospheric.
“Sometimes I questioned whether I should be doing it as I felt as if I was stirring up some sort of spirit, but these feelings were quickly assuaged as I threw myself into my work. The stone was so beautiful to work and it was the colour of heather and swirling charcoal grey.”
Miss Tetlow said she had felt an affinity with the story from a young age. Growing up in Halifax, just a stone’s throw from Bronte country, she recalled how she and her friends would spend hours exploring Branwell Bronte’s gambling den,
She said: “It was known as the house of 1,000 windows, and it was a derelict house that we treated like a den and as a child it was fascinating. In Southowram there was also a little parsonage where the Bronte sisters used to teach. They are places I have grown up with, which adds to the whole story. Wuthering Heights was read to me as a child and it is a book I read over and over again because it has so much romance, emotion and passion, which as both as a youngster and adult you love. It’s bewitching for anybody.”
Premiering at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month, where it was awarded the Best Cinematography prize, the film sees Leeds-based newcomer James Howson, cast as Heathcliff and Kaya Scodelario, a graduate of the Channel 4 series Skins, as Catherine. Mr Howson is the first black actor to portray Heathcliff on the big screen.
Shot on hand-held cameras, filming took place in some of Yorkshire’s most stunning locations, including Thwaite, Cotescue Park in Coverham and Moor Close Farm in Muker, while the production office was temporarily based in Hawes.
Miss Tetlow said: “I am a very small part of it but it’s an exciting project to be involved with. I can’t wait for the film to come out as it will be a thrill to see my work on the big screen..”
The film will be shown at the opening gala of the 25th Leeds International Film Festival at the city’s town hall on November 3.