Sunday, November 7, 2021

Tessa Harris's "Beneath A Starless Sky"

Tessa Harris is the award-winning author of the Dr. Thomas Silkstone series and the Constance Piper Mystery series.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Beneath a Starless Sky:
With an original title like The Woman Who Danced with Fred Astaire of course I always hoped – and still do - that my novel will make it to the big screen.

It’s a sweeping tale, that blends fact with fiction, and which stretches from Germany in 1930 to Portugal in 1940, taking in America, France and England in between. Chapters are set in Hollywood, on the Cote d’Azur, London and in English country houses, so, it’s certainly got lots of scope for glamorous locations.

The story centers around Lilli Sternberg, a Jewish dancer, who wants to escape her increasingly oppressive life in Munich and become a Hollywood film star. When her romance with a dashing young Army officer, Marco Zeiller, is brought to an abrupt end, she leaves her family and heads to America to seek fame and fortune. Achieving her dream of dancing with Fred Astaire, she is introduced to high society and befriends Prince Edward and his mistress, Wallis Simpson. But a cruel twist of fate puts an end to Lilli’s career and the prince and Mrs Simpson, both Nazi sympathisers, have other plans for her. The book was inspired by true events and culminates in a real plot to kidnap the former king of England and make him Germany’s puppet ruler.

In writing the book I owe a debt of gratitude to a real-life Hollywood legend, Leslie Caron. I’d already started to write the story when, as a journalist, I was fortunate enough to interview Ms Caron when she came to England on a book tour. She actually partnered Fred Astaire in the classic films Daddy Long Legs and Something’s Gotta Give. Her own story – a poor ballet student in Paris who becomes a Hollywood star - contained uncanny echoes of the one I was already writing. It gave me fresh impetus.

As for my cast list, Lilli Sternberg would be played by Lily Collins. She’s a dark and exotic beauty who has the delicate physique of a dancer. In the book, Lilli dyes her dark hair blonde to hide her Jewishness after she leaves Germany, but Lily would look equally alluring whatever shade her hair. I saw her play Tolkien’s wife in the bio-pic and thought she brought great pathos to the role.

The character of Army officer Marco Zeiller is half Italian, with dark brown hair and brown eyes. He’s a true romantic and I think Lorenzo Richelmy, who became famous with the Netflix TV series Marco Polo, would be a good choice.

I’d give the role of the real villain of the piece, Captain von Stockmar, to Alexander Ludwig, who won awards for his part in the blockbuster, The Hunger Games (2012).

As for Fred Astaire, my first choice would have to be Ryan Gosling who amazed everyone with his fancy footwork in La La Land. Astaire was a real Anglophile and, in my novel, introduced Lilli into high society, including British royalty.

I thought Lia Williams made a good Wallis Simpson on the Netflix drama The Crown, while Alex Jennings was an excellent Duke of Windsor, although I can imagine Bond actor Daniel Craig would also be interesting in the part.

Finally, I’d cast Freddie Fox, recently seen in the BBC’s The Pursuit of Love, as the English aristocrat James Marchington. He wins Lilli’s heart, but there are dire consequences for them both. There are also cameo roles for several real-life characters, including the writer Somerset Maughan, the British Fascist leader Oswald Mosley, and Goebbels and Hitler – so plenty of meaty parts for seasoned character actors to get their teeth into!
Visit Tessa Harris's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Devil's Breath.

My Book, The Movie: The Sixth Victim.

--Marshal Zeringue