Sparkhouse

Sparkhouse

I feel that I haven’t been honest with you. I have moved on from my actor crush on Stephen Moyer to a similar crush on Richard Armitage. You know, where I watch everything he’s ever been in? I had been courting the idea for a while, and was a little disheartened about how Richard is a) not in anything, and b) in lots of things that are bad. I finally dropped the idea altogether, until Mckenzie encouraged me to pick it back up again. So here I am, fully commited to a Richard Armitage crush, for better or for worse.

It started with North and South, but what really clinched it was "Sparkhouse", a 2002 tv mini series that is a reinvention of Wuthering Heights. Get it? Spark-house, Wuthering Heights? It’s a three parter, set in modern times.  I think it might be the best adaptation of Wuthering Heights I have ever seen, and I’ve seen many, since I lived with Mckenzie.

It’s not a word-for-word adaptation, and I can only approve. I hate it when a modernization uses the original names in modern times, as if names like Claudio or Mercutio could ever really be accepted in today’s world. There aren’t even specific characters that are specific people: they are all a little mixed with each other, in a inbred way true to the claustrophobic novel. Sparkhouse takes the story their own way, diverging from the real story in interesting ways, while still retaining the feelings and motivations behind the characters in WH that I think more faithful than some more "faithful" adaptations. The Catherine and Heathcliff characters–here, Carol and Andrew–are in love with each other in a way that is crazy, passionate, and mean in the true Heathcliff/Catherine style, but also manages to be believable. It’s hard to make those two believable, even in the novel. But they did in Sparkhouse, and it was grand.

This movie went through the Ultimate Modernization Test: I watched it with Jared, who hates period movies so much he once slept through Persuasion out of spite, and I late watched it with Mckenzie, who adores the novel but hates every adaptation out there with a firey passion. Both loved it. I have to admit that it’s hard to get into period dramas if you aren’t used to them, and it’s even harder to get into Wuthering Heights if you don’t innately appreciate unrestrained passion and meanness. But Sparkhouse is both approachable and true to the story, so I feel like it’s a great starter-kit for loving the crazy Bronte.

And who is Richard Armitage in this? Tall, rough, surly Richard Armitage who can sneer like a pro? You’d think Heathcliff, right? Actually, no! He plays John, the tall, rough, and painfully socially awkward farmhand on Carol’s shitty little ranch who is completely awkwardly in love with her while she cares for someone else! Sparkhouse does this interesting thing. Andrew is more Linton than Heathcliff: he lives in the rich little farmhouse on the hill that Carol desperately wants to be a part of. Since Andrew is upperclass, he has prospects for the future, he’s "going somewhere," while Carol gets caught stealing and doesn’t finish High School. Since WH spends so much time making the Linton family, their gentle ideals, and everything they stand for utterly dispicable, I love thinking of the implications of this turnaround. You start to realize that the roles have been reversed: Carol is Heathcliff, and Andrew is Catherine. Which is fine, except that poor Andrew is played by the Hobbit who was never in Lord of the Rings:

That was a little below the belt: this shot is from a period drama (Cranford, I think) where he was a little bit older, and at least five points hobbit-y-er than he was in Sparkhouse. Really, he’s not that bad looking. And that’s not to say that he didn’t do his part well; really good acting from the Hobbit That Never Was. In fact, stellar acting all around; I’m really impressed with everyone on the show.

The biggest problem is that you end up sympathizing much more with Richard than the Andrew character. It also doesn’t make much sense why she doesn’t like him. When he’s rough and dirty and awkward, I can kind of understand, but there’s this whole clean up session later, and I just don’t understand how you can look at him with his new cute little haircut and not be attracted, much less have eyes for The Fifth Hobbit Who Stayed in the Shire.

How can you do that? How??