FROM TIME TO TIME - Cast and characters

We were incredibly lucky – we went for our wish list and got them.”
(Liz Trubridge, producer of film From Time to Time)

Trubridge was delighted by Fellowes’ choice of Maggie Smith to play Mrs. Oldknow. As she explains: “Julian wrote the part for Maggie, because it was very important for us that the character wasn’t twee. Maggie has the perfect combination of a steeliness which also melts. She just breaks your heart in the end, as she and Tolly learn to love each other. Maggie was the absolute perfect casting for it and it was fantastic for us when she wanted to do it.”

Fellowes adds: “Maggie has been faithful to the project since she first read the script and of course that was crucial, not just for getting interest and raising money but because we needed a tremendously strong character to play Mrs. Oldknow. In a sense she’s the tent pole that supports both periods – and the house – and Maggie has this extraordinary quality of being extremely moving when she wants to be, yet she’s never sentimental. I find that both very powerful and very useful. I was absolutely delighted that she wanted to do it and with what she’s done.”

Alex Etel, who plays Tolly, was excited, though nervous at first to perform with his on-screen grandmother: “Maggie has been really nice to me and shown me stuff that I’ve never seen before because she’s been in the business a lot longer. So she knows where to stand, what kind of emphasis you have to put on words, so I could always ask her how to say things – she’s always been there to help me. Also, she’s really funny and always making jokes.”

Tolly is an interesting character because although he’s an Oldknow his mother is a Mancunian and he’s been brought up outside the house, in a very different environment. As a result of this, he comes into the house with a plan of his own. Explains Fellowes: “The children in this story are not side characters, they are principal figures in the story and Tolly, particularly, arrives with his own agenda. He is not cowed by his grandmother. He fights his corner because he feels that his grandmother doesn’t like his mother, which she doesn’t, and he feels that it would be disloyal of him not to stick up for his mother. So, in a sense, he is pulling his weight as an equal as soon as he arrives. I think it is interesting for young people to see characters of their own age who are not always being led around by the hand.”

Fellowes continues: “Alex has a curiously adult quality as an actor. He has a sort of emotional imagination. Sometimes, it’s hard for child actors to go into an emotional situation when they haven’t felt it, so it’s very helpful when you have children who understand that stuff.” Adds Alex Etel: “Tolly is a very isolated, depressed boy. He doesn’t like socializing with people, he’s not very open to everybody and his dad’s gone off to war. He’s got a lot on his mind and he’s just trying to make it through.”

To add to his difficulties and confusion, Tolly is the only character that really goes into both periods. For Etel: “It’s quite hard, thinking ‘which period am I in?’ To keep your head round whether you’re in 1944 or 1809.” He continues: “’m in about 96 per cent of the scenes in the film. When I first went in to meet Julian I realized that it was going to be a lot of work and a real challenge for me, but obviously, every actor’s got to have a challenge, otherwise you won’t get anywhere..”

Liz Trubridge had seen Alex in ‘Cranford’ and “thought he was fantastic and Douglas Rae who had produced ‘The Water Horse’ told Julian that he had to see him. We couldn’t meet for a while, but when we finally caught up with him it was instantaneous – it had to be Alex. He’s got such a stillness and the camera loves him. He gives so many emotions across his face for a 14-year- old, he’s extraordinary.”

Pauline Collins, who plays Mrs. Tweedie, adds: “He’s a real old soul. Alex has a very strong centre and I think he acts with truth and that’s all that you can ask. You don’t have a sense when you’re working with him of working with a child. You’re working with an actor.”

Timothy Spall, who plays Boggis, explains: “Boggis’s family has been part of the furniture for many generations. He’s very stoical, a typical country yeoman who slowly explains to Tolly certain mysteries of the house and he talks about the people as if they’re still there. He’s very much a person who I think understands and is in tune with what Tolly’s experiencing, even though he doesn’t experience it himself.”

He continues: “When you work with writer/directors they know the script back to front. Julian has a very easy and organised way of letting you know how he thinks it should be. He’s not dictatorial and everything he’s said makes sense and also he’s open to adding or changing various things. He’s not holding onto it like his baby, so with him, it’s about collaboration. Also, he’s an actor, so he knows when he thinks it’s right or not. This is a tremendous script, it’s beautifully written. There’s not one character that’s introduced that doesn’t have a full threedimensional life. You get to know each character, even if they only appear very briefly.”

Carice van Houten plays Maria Oldknow whom she describes as “not a very easy, warm-hearted person. In fact she always seems to be quite busy with herself.” For Liz Trubridge, “Maria was a very difficult part to cast because on the page it could be easily said that she is a rather selfish woman, a very unsympathetic character, living this very privileged,
pampered life and not being very kind to her blind daughter. Carice has such humour and warmth and in the scenes when the house is on fire and she’s worried about all her possessions, she’s managed to turn in something gorgeous – it’s so cleverly done.”

Maria Oldknow and Dominic

Dominic West, who plays Caxton, agrees that Maria is a difficult role, but one that van Houten has made into her own and also somehow sympathetic: “Maria is a sexy, bored housewife who is probably a little too young for the responsibilities of the house and so craves a bit of fun and youthful enjoyment and also company and affection, which she eventually finds in the arms of Caxton. Her husband’s away all the time and very strict, and as an audience we like him a lot, but I can see Maria’s predicament as being one that she’s justified in trying to break out of. She’s an amazing actress.”

Liz Trubridge was unsure whether they would be able to persuade Dominic West to play Caxton, because, as she explains, “Caxton on the page says very little, so it looks like quite a small part. But luckily Dominic saw that his presence is felt throughout the script, this dark presence, which he does brilliantly and he’s just there looking and observing and being rather Machiavellian. Wherever we have been able to, when Dominic has been on the set, we’ve grabbed moments of him lurking in corridors because that’s what he does, watches and lurks and hatches terrible plans. Dominic West agrees: “He doesn’t say much but he is overtly threatening. I have in mind Oliver Reed as Bill Sykes in ‘Oliver’ – he’s a black crow who hangs over them. He’s a really nasty piece of work.”

Caxton is particularly nasty to Jacob, played by newcomer Kwayedza Kureya. The butler sees Jacob as someone threatening a system that Caxton likes and currently controls. For Kureya, his character Jacob “is probably the hero of the story in a way, because he’s been brought to the house to look after Susan and be her companion. She’s been trapped, and Jacob frees her because he helps her to do things that she could not manage before.”

Susan and Jacob

Eliza Bennett who plays Susan agrees: “Susan is trapped in the fact that her mother doesn’t know how to deal with her blindness. Her father truly loves her, but is away a lot and her brother is jealous that their father loves her more. She’s trapped in a house where nobody knows how to deal with her condition. Her father brings Jacob home, to be her eyes, and she goes from being a trapped character to having a lot of freedom. Jacob releases her and she’s able to run and climb trees and, more to the point, to think for herself – all things she hadn’t been able to do before.”

Fellowes adds: “The key factor of Susan is that she’s blind. It’s about freedom – Jacob’s an ex-slave who’s got away and he’s now free and he is brought to help this blind girl become free. He releases her, really. Captain Oldknow (Hugh Bonneville) spots him and knows that this is the way to bring his daughter a proper life, instead of making her dependent on nurses and nannies, and so in that sense he brings his freedom to her and they are then free together.” He continues: “It’s about empowering yourself – Jacob is empowered by Captain Oldknow and he in turn empowers Susan – so their relationship is core to the film.”

[Information courtesy of Milk Publicity]

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1 comment:

  1. Dec 10 2010


    Can't wait for this to come out on dvd or tv or wait for it in the theatres in States soon i hope.Any information where i can get this on dvd would be helpful to me because i would like to see soon please? Thanks Elizabeth Osborne



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