Saturday, September 13, 2014

Natalie Haynes's "The Furies"

Natalie Haynes is a graduate of Cambridge University and an award-winning comedian, journalist, and broadcaster. She judged the Man Booker Prize in 2013 and was a judge for the final Orange Prize in 2012. Natalie is a regular panelist on BBC2’s Newsnight Review, Radio 4’s Saturday Review, and the long-running arts show, Front Row. She is a guest columnist for The Independent and The Guardian.

Here Haynes dreamcasts an adaptation of The Furies, her first novel:
The lead character in The Furies is Alex: a woman in her mid-twenties, who has suffered a terrible loss, and is about to embark on a course of action that will indirectly cause another. She’s from London, England, and is working in Edinburgh, in Scotland. I have always thought she should be played by Anna Maxwell Martin, who you probably last saw as Philomena’s daughter (who pesters Steve Coogan into investigating her mother’s case, in Philomena). I think she is slightly older than Alex, but it couldn’t matter less, because she is a) a brilliant actor, and b) has the saddest face I’ve ever seen on the big or small screen. There is something compelling about her eyes: they seem to be on the verge of tears at all times. I can’t think of anyone who could better capture Alex’s grief and anger.

I don’t think I was thinking about her when I started writing Furies, but whenever anyone asks who would play Alex in a movie, I always say it would be her: she looks like Alex (or maybe it’s the other way round). And it is a pretty tough role. At the beginning of the book, Alex is numb with grief, but she gradually thaws out as she starts teaching a difficult group of students. So Alex needs to be charismatic, too: the audience would have to believe this woman could control a room of aggressive kids.

But here’s the thing. Last year, my boyfriend was in a movie with Anna Maxwell Martin, and he came back from a week of filming saying she is the quickest person to laugh in any room (and he’s pretty quick to laugh himself). And for a moment, when he told me that, I thought I’d made the wrong choice in my fantasy-film-casting daydreams. Then I realised this actually made her even better casting.

Alex is not an intrinsically miserable character. She’s a smart, funny person, to whom something truly awful has happened. The whole time I was writing her, I wanted those two levels to be readable: she is wretchedly unhappy, but beneath that, she’s someone you would want to hang out with. She isn’t a gag-a-minute, or anything, but if you were having a beer with her, she would listen to you and she would make you laugh.

Having said all that, I think there is a possibility that if Furies was made into a film, it would be relocated to America. And in that case, I would pick Elizabeth Olsen to play Alex: she has the same qualities of intense emotion and cleverness which Alex has. And she has an extraordinary capacity to show vulnerability and toughness at once. I’m not picky: I’d be overjoyed with either of them.

Who would direct it? Why, Joss Whedon, of course. I’m not an idiot.
Visit Natalie Haynes's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Furies.

--Marshal Zeringue