Actress, supermodel and businesswoman Lily Cole has spoken about her upcoming project to honour the Bronte sisters, defending against some strong blowback to her portrayal of ‘Wuthering Heights’ male character Heathcliff as a “violent and awful” domestic abuser.

You may remember, several months ago, that Bronte academic Nick Holland resigned from the Bronte Society when he learned of Cole’s appointment as creative partner for the society for 2018 – never mind that she had a double-first in history of art from Cambridge University.

Now, Cole has unveiled the results of her project, a film titled Balls which is an attempt to depict Heathcliff’s early life and that of his black single mother, who throws herself upon the mercy of a hospital to help raise him, but who is turned away by the hospital’s board of moralistic men on the basis of a lottery system to weed out the ‘undeserving’.

Lily ColeLily Cole

The film is premiering this weekend at Haworth’s Bronte Parsonage Museum, and she told The Guardian in a new profile piece about her experiences with the character.

“I had a really strong reaction to Heathcliff... It was, unfortunately, positive. I fell for the really bad thing, like people do. I found him attractive. But the more I read it, the less I like him, the more I see how violent and awful he is.”

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“I’m not apologising, but it’s interesting to recognise it, right? It’s interesting how polarising he is. I asked a lot of ordinary people about Heathcliff. Half the women find him a violent domestic abuser and can’t understand why he has been painted as a romantic figure. Others still paint him as a romantic figure.”

Cole, 30, also spoke about the reaction to her appointment to the Bronte Society in the first place, and says she’s less bothered about Holland’s resignation than what the public thought.

“It’s not surprising when you get people with negative behaviour and attitudes. I was definitely more surprised by the shit-storm that followed. I just thought it was a nice little project to support. I was surprised by the media’s attention.”

“I don’t like giving it more attention than it’s due. It’s actually really easy to join a society and leave a society. That’s how the story read, right? ‘Man leaves society’ – as if it’s a big deal.”

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