Dramatic beauty: Hayley Atwell is worth watching


I have very, very mixed feelings about the upcoming big-screen version of Brideshead Revisited. On the one hand, I want to hate it with every fiber of my being. It’s a remake of a television version from the ’80s that seemed perfect to me the first time round. The screenwriter, Andrew Davies (he of Tipping the Velvet fame) has stated in interviews that his aim is to shift the focus of the story, from the memorably homerotic bond between university friends Charles and Sebastian, to the tragic affair between Charles and Sebastian’s sister Julia. Which is a great idea: because what the big screen has really lacked for a long time now is another love story about star-crossed heterosexuals.

On the other hand, the film stars Hayley Atwell.

Atwell probably isn’t known at all currently in the States. Twenty-five years old, she only recently got her start in the U.K., starring in the 2006 BBC drama The Line of Beauty as Catherine Fedden, a restless girl from a wealthy family who suffers from manic depression. Although the drama centered around another young British actor, Dan Stevens, who starred as Nick, it’s probably fair to say that it was Atwell who really caught the attention.

Able to convey the vibrant, sexy, seemingly confident side to her character — as she saunters round upper-crust parties with a cigarette and a glass of champagne, loudly declaring her boyfriend to be a “blinding f—” — Atwell also convincingly caught the despair and the underlying insecurity that made Cat one of the drama’s most interesting characters.

Since then, unsurprisingly, her career has taken off. As well as Brideshead Revisited, which will be released in 2008, she stars in Woody Allen’s new film, Cassandra’s Dream. Although the film itself has been receiving indifferent reviews, Atwell’s performance has been praised — as has that of Fingersmith actress Sally Hawkins, pictured below with blonde hair.

(Am I the only one tempted to photoshop Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell out of that picture, and make the film about something else entirely?)

Atwell’s most recent project, currently filming and due for release in 2008, is the 18th century drama The Duchess, also starring Ralph Fiennes and Keira Knightley. Knightley will play Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and Atwell will play her best friend, Lady Bess Foster, who goes on to have an affair with Georgiana’s husband (Fiennes).

The Fiennes connection is funny, since there is something about the exotic-looking, strong-featured Atwell that has always made me think of his English Patient character, Count László de Almásy. We are long overdue for a lush, big-budget cinema romance with a lesbian theme — and somehow I can just see Atwell as a shy, intense, heavily-accented Hungarian explorer, falling madly in love with a beautiful blonde British woman in the desert.

Who should play the Kristin Scott Thomas role? Give me your thoughts below.