Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Allison Epstein's "A Tip for the Hangman"

Allison Epstein earned her M.F.A. in fiction from Northwestern University and a B.A. in creative writing and Renaissance literature from the University of Michigan. A Michigan native, she now lives in Chicago, where she works as a copywriter. When not writing, she enjoys good theater, bad puns, and fancy jackets.

Here Epstein dreamcasts an adaptation of A Tip for the Hangman, her first novel:
A Tip for the Hangman is a historical fiction spy thriller set in 1500s England, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The main character, Kit Marlowe, is a grad-student-turned-spy who finds himself undercover in the household of Mary Queen of Scots, trying to uncover a Catholic-led plot to assassinate Elizabeth.

Even though most of my characters are real historical figures, they’re mostly behind-the-scenes players who didn’t get their portraits painted often. There’s only one existing portrait of Marlowe, and scholars aren’t even really sure it’s him! So I had some freedom to play with my actor lookalikes.

In my dream cast, Kit himself is played by Timothée Chalamet. They’re both small, scrappy, poetic types who look like they’ve just wandered in from the local tavern without brushing their hair. And since Chalamet has already played Henry V, I can imagine him wandering back into old-time England for the role.

Sir Francis Walsingham, the intimidating spymaster who oversees Kit’s missions, is definitely Mark Rylance. They have the same expressive eyes and an undercurrent of pervasive sadness, with a layer of kindness hidden underneath it. (Am I projecting a lot of feelings onto Mark Rylance? Absolutely.)

Arthur Gregory, the gruff senior spy with a heart of gold, isn’t exactly a main character in the novel, but I strongly believe he should be played by Tom Hardy. Gregory is essentially a reprise of Hardy’s role as Alfie Solomons in the TV show Peaky Blinders, except with Elizabethan costuming and a less-impenetrable accent.

The character I had the most trouble casting was Nick Skeres, Kit’s frenemy from grad school who returns with a vengeance in the second act. The person I really want to play him is Damian Lewis circa 2000, but the realities of linear time thwart me there.

My dream adaptation is a TV series that follows in the footsteps of Dickinson, Harlots, or Reign. (Well, maybe not quite as wild as Reign.) I yearn for a bright, irreverent series with anachronistic touches and modern songs played on period-appropriate instruments. A lute cover of Florence + The Machine? Yes, please.
Visit Allison Epstein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue