Thompson talks My Fair Lady
I did think it was rather odd that Emma Thompson would be writing the script for the new version of My Fair Lady, but written it she has and the film looks set to go ahead with Carey Mulligan getting the lead role, according to Thompson.
There's still not much else to be known about the production, well until Emma Thompson talked about the script and revealed some interesting changes in direction for those familiar with the film version.
We heard back in March of this year from Emma Thompson herself that Carey Mulligan was to play the lead role of Eliza Doolittle in the new version of George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion on which the famous My Fair Lady film starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn is based.
Emma Thompson has recently written and starred in the Nanny McPhee films, the first I saw was rather entertaining, and before that in 1995 she wrote the screenplay for Sense and Sensibility, so it seems quite a leap to tackle My Fair Lady, a film which has a cultural icon leading it and is a bit of an iconic film in itself. Well that's not really how Thompson sees it.
”I didn't treat it as an icon in my mind...I just looked at it and said: 'How could it be improved?' So I was very cheeky.”
According to the previous stories of the script and the interview in Variety, she looked more to the Pygmalion side of the story than the film version, which she describes rather honestly:
”I find it chocolate-boxy, clunky and deeply theatrical...I don't think that it's a film. It's this theater piece put onto film. It was Cecil Beaton's designs and Rex Harrison that gave it its extraordinary quality. I don't do Audrey Hepburn. I think that she's a guy thing. I'm sure she was this charming lady, but I didn't think she was a very good actress. It's high time that the extraordinary role of Eliza was reinterpreted, because it's a very fantastic part for a woman.”
Pygmalion on the other hand is somewhat deeper and a little darker according to Thompson:
”His attitude was very much more clear-eyed and cynical about what Higgins was up to...And it certainly was not something that could have led to a romantic entanglement.”
She goes onto talk about how women were viewed as lesser intellectually to men, although Shaw was a champion of women characters and that is something that Thompson shares herself, believing that women are repressed throughout the world.
One good difference is that there aren't new musical numbers, but instead it seems she's bringing out the more modern drama of the story such as expanding on the role of Eliza's father, a drunk, who sells his daughter for a mere five pounds.
”He's more brutal...It's a very terrible thing he does, selling his daughter into sexual slavery for a fiver. I suppose my cheekiness is in saying: 'This is a very serious story about the usage of women at a particular time in our history. And it's still going on today.'?...Yes, OK, it's a wonderful musical, but let's also look at what it's really saying about the world.”
Thompson says that her version of the story exists in the real world.
”...my job was to pull that into a not necessarily more modern but a more emotionally connectedly visceral piece so that Higgins and Eliza's relationship becomes absolutely central in a slightly different way...”
It sounds like she's modernising it in a way that we'd like to see as well, it's not sounding that it'll turn out too preachy, but it does sound like she's taken a cold hard look at what the story is really about, and that's a much darker story. Will it end up as romanticised as the original film? I don't believe so, and that'll be a good thing.