Monday, November 12, 2012

From Paper to Film: "Cheerful Weather for the Wedding"

One of the first Persephone books I ever read was "Cheerful Weather for the Wedding" by Julia Strachey. 
(Available HERE.)

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.)

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. 


Miss Bibliophile said...

What a great interview and behind the scenes peek! I'd heard this movie was coming out, but now this post has me really excited for it (and in the mood to re-read the book)!

holly aka golly said...

I'm so excited too! What a treat for us, for you, to do this interview and give us a glimpse of this marvelous movie!

Lily said...

Thank you for this, what a fabulous treat!

StuckInABook said...

Oh, you didn't, Lisa! You didn't just interview a lovely person about a book I adore, with such beautiful pictures! You are a TREAT.

I thought this was going straight to DVD, so I'm delighted to see it is getting cinematic release - and especially after seeing how beautiful it looks.

noreen said...

it looks very interesting! i'll check out the book first. thanks for the introduction!

pve design said...

Oh how perfectly wonderful. I think I shall invite a few friends and go see this together - it would make a lovely holiday gift - to see such a film.
Fantastic interview.

Emily said...

I cannot wait to see this during the holidays, and I am over the moon excited to read this interview!

Nadia said...

How exciting! Can't wait to see the film!

Frances said...

You are a very fine interviewer, and I now look forward to seeing this film.

I absolutely agree with your praise of Nicola and Persephone Books!

KSL said...

It looks fantastic, and what a great interview. Will be seeing the film for sure.

BTW - I'm on my 4th try for word verification, it often keeps me from commenting on a blog. Isn't there another way to moderate this?

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...


I'm so sorry about that! The word verification is there to prevent masses of spam comments. I am in the same boat when I comment on other people's blogs -- those numbers and letters are incredibly confusing!

Maria Speidel said...


Love getting my Persephone Biannually in the mail, but didn't know about this movie. Now, I can't wait for it! And the writer's story is inspiring also. The movie looks wonderful. As a hint to everyone having trouble with verification: remember to type in data from both boxes, but I've had trouble with them, too.


Jamie Herzlinger said...

Fabulous interview! Thank you so much for sharing!! I can't wait!

Love, Jamie Herzlinger

Dash said...

What a fantastic scoop Lisa! The film looks wonderful I can't wait to see it.

I have a few Persephone books in my collection and I think most of them could be adapted into wonderful films.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful treat! I hadn't heard of the book, the movie or this publisher. I will definitely keep my eyes open for all three (to get me through the long, cold Canadian winter ahead!). Thank you!

Unknown said...

Your enthusiasm, resolve, and passion for the creative process, and your appreciation for those who bring these beauties to fruition- well, it's all very inspiring. Thank you!

Unknown said...

Oooooh, so thrilling! Thanks for pulling some strings. Lovely interview. Can't wait to see it!

Olga said...

Neat interview! I'm looking forward to seeing this film (and the book, too. Must get this book.)

Michelle said...

Okay, there's another on my list to read, but I'm moving this one to the top. Thanks so much. You really provide a great source inspiration and entertainment for a gal like me, stuck in the throes of dejected Oklahoma. Without my computer and a few blogs, I don't know what on earth I would do.

Beautiful Things - Cathy said...

I can't wait to see this film. It looks incredible. x

Megan Taylor said...

This looks like the perfect holiday film. I can't wait to be inspired by everything about it. Thank you for sharing!

Unknown said...

I love Persephone Books! We used to live v. close to Lambs Conduit Street. Can't wait to see the film!

kim at northerncalstyle. said...

Cannot wait for this. So my kind of movie. I love reading how she took a great book and did this. I always fantasize about doing that when I'm reading a good book.

Thanks for bringing attention to what looks like a wonderful movie.


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Hausfrau said...

Delighted to see this lovely book has been made into a film--now that I know, I can't wait to see it! Thanks for sharing this interview with us!

Clare said...

I just saw the movie and loved it. The sets and costumes were so beautiful, and I loved reading more details about them on your blog! Now I have to read the book....

Trina Dalziel said...

I always read Persephone Books for the first two months of the year (then as the weather improves I move back to the 21st Century) and now I have a wintery film trip to look forward. Thank you!

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