What is it about Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronté's romantic saga of doomed lovers Heathcliff and Cathy, that has inspired filmmakers to put its haunted, windswept story on-screen five times? If dark obsession is the key, it should come as no surprise that yet another film version of the high-gothic tale is planned. But several? That might drive even a Bronté to madness.
Already filming on the Yorkshire moors under director Peter Kosminsky (The Falklands War: The Untold Story) is Paramount's Wuthering Heights, with the Royal Shakespeare Company's Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and Sinéad O'Connor narrating, in the role of Bronté herself. O'Connor, ''who has been obsessed with Cathy (Bronté's heroine) since she was about 4,'' says a source close to the singer, had wanted to screen-test for the part of Cathy. But the director ''didn't want the film to be perceived as a Sinéad O'Connor movie.'' So, perhaps as a consolation prize, O'Connor will perform as a kind of muse, says producer Mary Selway.
In addition, a ''popera'' (or ''pop opera'') version, directed by Alek Keshishian (Truth or Dare), will add music to the Bronté mix. Keshishian, who staged the material as a Harvard undergrad in 1985, is approaching Madonna and George Michael to write songs and appear in the film.
Meanwhile, Franco Zeffirelli (Romeo and Juliet) is hoping to beat the other two by bringing Wuthering Heights to television. With financing from Britain's Granada TV and Italy's Berlusconi media group, Zeffirelli is trying to get his TV movie on CBS by the spring.