One of the first Persephone books I ever read was "Cheerful Weather for the Wedding" by Julia Strachey.
So when I found out that there was a movie was coming out...
(All film photos by Mark Tilley with permission of Universal Pictures.)
... and that my friend Nicola Beauman (the founder of Persephone Books)...
(Photo by Martin Godwin.)
...knew the screenwriter, Mary Henely Magill, well, I pulled all my strings to get an interview with her.
(Screenwriter Mary Henely Macgill on set with "production
assistant extraordinaire" Harry Eagle. Photo by Wezley Joao Ferreira.)
Mary, I'm absolutely thrilled to have you on A Bloomsbury Life. I want to know everything about you, so start as far back as you can!
I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, went to the University of Chicago, and then came to England to do a masters degree in English at Oxford. A hundred years later, I still live here, and am married to an English neuroscientist -- we met as grad students. I've got a three-year-old son named Johnny. I worked briefly as a production manager on short films while I tried to find the right project to write myself. I always wanted to work in the movie business -- always wanted to be Anita Loos or Ruth Gordon but never got my act together to actually finish a script until "Cheerful Weather" came along.
A friend of mine had given me the book as a present in 2003. I loved the writing and the humour and how odd the book is when you really examine it. It also feels really modern and fresh, but it has all the appeal of period drama.
Nine years from conception to creation, that's quite the writer's journey.
I called Nicola at Persephone Books to find out about the rights and my producer, Teun Hilte, eventually optioned the book. I share writing credit with Donald Rice in the film; without him, the script would never have been written at all.
Did you know Nicola previous to this? She is such an amazing person and I feel so lucky to know her.
No, but I was a big fan of Persephone Books and loved getting the chance to meet her and hang out at the shop. At one point -- Nicola would think I was crazy -- I almost asked her if I could work there!
I would work there too! It's the most enchanting bookshop in the world.
(Lambs Conduit Street shop, March 2009. Photo by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti.)
Were there any big challenges to overcome in adapting the material?
I think the toughest thing was retaining the tone of the book while, at the same time, trying to make the story as cinematic as possible. For me, the intimacy of the story is an advantage onscreen, but we did have to think very hard about how to dramatize Dolly's internal thoughts, and how to make the hints and suggestions about the past come to life in the movie.
And we rewrote some of the flashbacks to suit the available locations, so a hotel dining room scene became a barn dance, for example. Anna Lavelle, the production designer, outdid herself. The paper lanterns were all painted by hand -- the details were incredible.
Author Julia Strachey must be beaming down on this project with great glee, don't you think?
I hope she would approve of the film, but by all accounts, she was a tricky character. At one point I desperately wanted to contact the owner of her portrait to see if we could create a copy to hang in Dolly's bedroom. This never happened, but I really wish we had done it. No one would know or notice, but it would have given me a huge amount of pleasure to see that detail in the background somewhere.
(Julia Strachey by Dora Carrington, 1928)
Where was the movie shot?
At three different locations in Wiltshire. I got to be on set for about half of the time which would have never happened if Donald hadn't been the director.
(The "Cheerful Weather" production office. Pick up your jaw.)
It was so exciting to see everybody in costume on the first day of filming and to see the house come to life as the Thatcham family home. It was a dream come true, really. To write something and live with it in your head for a long time is fun, but seeing it all made real with such fabulous actors was just unbelievable for me. I was pinching myself all the time.
Any good on-set anecdotes?
We had outrageous weather to contend with, a frozen loo, an accident with a cow and a location assistant, and hotel staff in Salisbury who were straight out of Faulty Towers. Oh, and the crew stayed at a place called Sandy Balls. Really.
The sets are beyond stunning. Were you involved in the style of the movie?
I had very strong ideas of what the house should look like. I love the colors on the walls, and I wanted to steal those drawing room curtains!
The clothes are no slouch either. Just sayin'.
Camilla Benda did the costumes and she was terrific. Dolly's wedding gown was made for the film...
...but some of the clothes were vintage things from the era.
The blue backless dress was a standout...
...but I also loved the shorts outfit Dolly wears in the boat scene. I wanted to steal that too.
I love that you were an extra in the movie but am so bummed that you aren't in the final cut. I think you look like cinematic gold!
(Screenwriter Mary Henely Magill dressed as an extra
for the cricket scene. Photo by Wezley Joao Ferreira.)
for the cricket scene. Photo by Wezley Joao Ferreira.)
I am very proud of the movie and I hope fans of the book will like it. We did change a few things and we had to compromise sometimes, but I think the relationship between Dolly and Joseph -- and the triangle they make with Mrs Thatcham -- remains true to Julia Strachey's characters and true to the way love can make us happy and unhappy at the same time. And all with gorgeous sets and clothes!
Mary, thank you so much for giving my readers and me such an exclusive insider's glimpse into the making of the film -- I can't wait to see it!
"Cheerful Weather for the Wedding" opens in the US on December 7th and in the UK on January 9th.