What would the Twitterati have made of this Fiennes romance
01:23 GMT, 18 May 2012
Ralph Fiennes’s film about the secret love affair between Charles Dickens and a woman more than half his age is finally shooting.
It was announced to great fanfare at the Cannes Film Festival a few years ago when Christine Langan, head of BBC Films, joined forces with producer Stewart Mackinnon to get Abi Morgan to adapt Claire Tomalin’s brilliant 1991 book The Invisible Woman.
That book told of Dickens’s relationship with actress Nelly Ternan which started when she was 18 and he was 45.
Hidden love: Felicity Jones and leading man Ralph Fiennes
It was an extraordinary affair. Dickens was perhaps the best-known man in the country, and he was married to Catherine — who had borne him ten children — when his eye fell on the blonde-haired Nelly.
The young actress performed in a distinguished but impoverished troupe of actors led by her mother, Frances Ternan (being played by Fiennes’s good friend Kristin Scott Thomas).
Nelly was indeed the invisible woman, and Felicity Jones — one of our best young actresses — was chosen by Fiennes, who is directing and starring as the famous author.
He explained how Felicity has to cover a wide age range, playing the younger and older Nelly — somewhat complicated by the fact that after Dickens’s death in 1870, Nelly rewrote her past, took several years off her age and married a headmaster.
‘When Felicity came in and read the part, she had something quite special and unique that was so exciting we didn’t have to look any further,’ declared Gaby Tana, who is producing the picture, in this, the 200th anniversary of Dickens’s birth, with BBC Films and Mackinnon.
I watched Felicity on set as she shot a scene with Fiennes and Tom Hollander, who portrays writer Wilkie Collins.
Jenny Shircore, the Oscar-winning hair and make-up designer, had given dark-haired Felicity blonde locks, and she was wearing a muslin-sprigged dress created by Michael O’Connor, another Oscar winner.
She has, as Fiennes observed, a ‘ferocious intelligence. She’s extremely perceptive and looms on screen’.
He added that it was important to have an actress ‘who could inhabit an interior life of someone much older than herself’.
Felicity, taking a short break between shooting scenes at Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire, observed that both Nelly and Dickens were obsessed with how they were observed socially.
‘He wanted to break out of those social conventions but obviously not in any public way,’ she told me.
‘They managed after Dickens’s death to keep it a huge secret. It was a very sacred and private relationship.
‘It would be impossible to keep such an affair secret now — it would be on Twitter’!
She added: ‘You hear this word mistress, which has all types of connotations, but Nelly was quite the opposite. She was a very smart almost puritanical woman, in fact.
‘The film is about a woman looking back on her life and considering that relationship.
‘It’s also about a woman who refuses to be completely invisible.’
Eloise's short cut to stardom
Eloise Laurence thought that traipsing up the red carpet was ridiculously silly.
‘She’s not that impressed,’ her leading man Tim Roth explained when he and 12-year-old Eloise stopped to chat in Cannes (pictured). ‘It’s quite funny,’ she said.
There was no edge to her comment. It was made in a perfectly natural way, which is the same quality she brings with such extraordinary effect to the film Broken, which also marks Rufus Norris’s incredible screen directorial debut.
Cannes: Broken co-stars Tim Roth and Eloise Laurence at the Cannes Film Festival
The movie, backed by producer Dixie Linder and BBC Films, opened Critics Week in Cannes last night.
Roth stars as Archie, a North London lawyer, a quiet hero, loosely inspired by Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. Eloise plays his daughter, Skunk, and Bill Milner appears as his son. ‘Skunk’s the heart of the story and Archie’s the spine,’ Roth told me
The film’s set in a cul-de–sac, and Eloise’s character observes violent scenes involving neighbours and is slowly drawn into the centre of a tempest. It’s marvellously atmospheric. We all know Roth and his cast mates Cillian Murphy, Rory Kinnear, Denis Lawson and Robert Emms are superb actors, but Eloise’s performance is the great surprise: she’s sublime.
‘I watched her on set last autumn and was struck by how relaxed she was in front of the camera. She’s really good, and you almost have to up your game working with her,’ Roth remarked.
She certainly has acting in her blood. Her parents are Larry Lamb (of EastEnders and Gavin And Stacey fame) and Clare Burt, an actress who has been in everything from Company and Nine at the Donmar to London Road at the National, which was directed by Rufus Norris.
‘I don’t really know if I’m good at acting, I just enjoy what I do,’ Eloise told me. She added: ‘I just thought it might be fun to audition for Broken. I thought: “If I get it, great; if I don’t, it doesn’t matter because I still have a life ahead of me.’
Norris did cast her — but there was some cost.
‘They cut seven inches off my long hair, which I accepted in the end because if you get the part that’s what they do,’ she said.
Eloise loves music and has played Audrey in Little Shop Of Horrors at school.
Her voice is described as being between Adele and Amy Winehouse, as a select audience in Cannes found out when the 12-year-old sang a duet with Damon Albarn of Blur.
A future star was very clearly born in Cannes last night.
Budget cuts have hit some of the the lavish parties at Cannes, with BBC Films and the BFI holding buffet lunches instead.
However, Sean Penn is presiding over a Carnival In Cannes tonight to raise money to help folk in Haiti.
Vanity Fair is holding a soiree over the weekend at the Hotel du Cap, while upmarket Finch’s Quarterly has Robert De Niro partying at Eden Roc.
Chopard, Calvin Klein and Electrolux are hosting tasteful little events, but there are few big affairs.