Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Lauren Belfer's "Ashton Hall"

Lauren Belfer is the New York Times bestselling author of And After the Fire, winner of the National Jewish Book Award; A Fierce Radiance, a Washington Post and NPR Best Mystery of the Year; and City of Light, a New York Times Notable Book, a Library Journal best book, a Main Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, and an international bestseller. Belfer attended Swarthmore College and has an MFA from Columbia University. She lives in New York City.

Here Belfer dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Ashton Hall:
When I’m in the midst of writing a novel, I often imagine the book as a movie, and I write from what I see on the screen in my mind.

A film of Ashton Hall would require a combination of English and American actors. The story begins when Hannah Larson, an American woman, and her nine-year-old son, Nicky, arrive at an historic English manor house outside Cambridge to care for an ill relative who rents an apartment there. Within a few days, Nicky has thoroughly explored the house on his own, and he’s stumbled upon a secret from the past. As Hannah and Nicky begin investigating this secret, they create new lives for themselves in England.

Hannah is about forty, and although she keeps up a strong, happy façade for the sake of her son, she’s struggling on the inside. She has to be portrayed in such a way that her inner vulnerability and sensitivity are always clear. I can think of many wonderful actresses working today who would play the role of Hannah beautifully, and I don’t want to name just one. As I think of actresses of the past, however, my mind keeps going to Ingrid Bergman. She wasn’t American, of course, and she was blonde, not dark-haired like Hannah, but she always brought a touching and riveting vulnerability to her roles.

While Hannah is living in England, she becomes close friends with Martha Tinsley, a research librarian at Ashton Hall. For this role, my dream choice would be Michelle Dockery, who is famous for her fantastic work on Downton Abbey. Recently I saw her in the TV series Anatomy of a Scandal. Because of the fierce focus and drive (within the constraints of being English) that Michelle Dockery brings to her portrayal of a barrister on that show, I immediately thought she’d be perfect in the role of Martha in Ashton Hall.

For Matthew Varet, Hannah’s friend and romantic interest in England, I’d cast Matthew Goode. Yes, he’s played similar roles and so might be a too-obvious choice, but the fact remains that he’s handsome, thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent – he would be perfect as Matthew Varet!

For some of the other characters … Judi Dench would be ideal as the estate administrator, Mrs. Felicity Gardner, and I’d cast Luke Kirby to play Hannah’s estranged husband, Kevin Donovan.

On a lighter note, one of the main characters in the book is a Golden Retriever named Duncan. Duncan is based on my own magnificent, noble, and absurdly cheerful Jasper, who died some years ago. Jasper is still a vital presence in my memory. Whenever I see a Goldie on the streets of my Greenwich Village neighborhood, I ask myself: Could that Goldie play Duncan in a movie of Ashton Hall? So far, I’m sorry to say, I haven't found the ideal Duncan … but he might be waiting for me around the next corner.
Visit Lauren Belfer's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Fierce Radiance.

My Book, The Movie: And After the Fire.

Q&A with Lauren Belfer.

--Marshal Zeringue