Monday, August 31, 2020

Celia Rees's "Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook"

Celia Rees is an award-winning YA novelist who is one of Britain's foremost writers for teenagers. Her novel Witch Child has been published in 28 languages and is required reading in secondary schools in the UK. Rees’s books are published in the US by Candlewick and Scholastic. Miss Graham's Cold War Cookbook is her first adult novel. A native of the West Midlands of England, she lives with her family in Leamington Spa.

Here Rees dreamcasts an adaptation of Miss Graham's Cold War Cookbook:
Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook is set in 1946. The story moves from an exhausted, bombed out London to the devastation of post war Germany. Main character, Edith Graham, is late thirties, an unmarried teacher who has spent the war looking after her mother and teaching school. Desperate for change and to make a contribution, she volunteers to go to Germany to help with re-construction. While in London, she stays with her friend, the exotic, exciting ex SOE agent Dori. At Dori’s house she meets and is immediately attracted to Latvian Jewish Brigade Officer, Harry Hirsch, who is also going to Germany.

Edith’s cousin, Leo, works for MI6 and recruits Edith to help search for fugitive Nazi War Criminals. One in particular, Dr Kurt von Stavenow, with whom Edith had a passionate affair before the war. Von Stavenow was involved in the Euthanasia Project: the elimination of the mentally unfit and precursor to the Holocaust. What Edith doesn’t know is that her cousin wants to use von Stavenow, not punish him. She is also tasked with finding his wife, Elisabeth von Stavenow.

Adeline Parnell, an American journalist and photographer, tells Edith about Operation Paperclip, run by the American Secret Service to find ‘useful’ Nazi scientists and give them new identities. She knows about this from Tom McHale, ex OSS, now CIA. Dori suspects that the British are doing the same thing and Edith agrees to send back information coded into recipes to escape the attention of censors.


Edith Graham – Olivia Colman

Very English, not conventionally beautiful but her expressive eyes command attention. She can play surface prim and proper but with the potential to surprise. She has tremendous emotional range from doubt and vulnerability to steely resolve and would be a very good Edith.

Dori – Rachel Weiss

Her dark, exotic good looks would make a great Dori and she bears quite a resemblance to Christine Granville, SOE spy and my inspiration for the character.

Adeline – Reese Witherspoon

American, tiny, blonde, very expressive face and looks good in anything - khakis or evening gown. She also resembles American war correspondent, Dickey Chapelle, one of my models for Adeline. My other choice would be Scarlett Johansson, who looks a bit like American photographer, Lee Miller.

Elisabeth von Stavenow – Cate Blanchett

Has to be blonde and very beautiful. I had Greta Garbo in mind when I was writing but, sadly, she’s not available. If Alexander Skarsgård plays Kurt von Stavenow (see below), then Nicole Kidman should be Elisabeth.

Tom McHale – Damian Lewis

Damian Lewis was on my noticeboard for Tom McHale. I was watching Homeland and re-watched Band of Brothers when I began writing and saw Damian Lewis as Tom McHale.

Harry Hirsch - Ben Wishaw

I always saw British actor, Ben Wishaw as Harry. I had him on my noticeboard from the start. Not just as inspiration, I actually used it to describe Harry. His dark, sensitive good looks were perfect.

Kurt von Stavenow - Michael Fassbinder

He has to be blond, Nordic, so handsome that Edith falls in love at first sight. Michael Fassbinder played excellent Nazi in Inglourious Basterds and bears an uncanny resemblance to real life extremely handsome Nazi war criminal, Joachim Peiper. If Michael is unavailable, then Alexander Skarsgård from Big Little Lies.

Directed by Katherine Bigelow

This isn’t a women’s story, but it is a story about women in a man’s world, so I’d like a woman director. She’s a superb film maker and can handle big, powerful issues with ease but she treats her characters with great understanding and compassion and never loses sight of the human cost of war.
Visit Celia Rees's website.

Q&A with Celia Rees.

--Marshal Zeringue