EXCLUSIVE: Heating up the AFM market: Firebrand, a psychological horror tale set in the bloody Tudor court with a focus on Queen Catherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of Henry VIII, and the only one to avoid banishment or death. Michelle Williams will play her, and Jude Law will play her notorious husband.
FilmNation and CAA Media Finance are introducing the package today. Karim Aïnouz (The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão) will direct a script by Jessica Ashworth (Killing Eve) and Henrietta Ashworth (Killing Eve). Brouhaha Entertainment will produce.
By the time young Catherine Parr (Williams) married the deteriorating, increasingly despotic King Henry VIII (Law), she had no assurances of a happy marriage; in fact, she had no assurances of surviving this marriage at all. Of her predecessors, two were thrown out, one died in childbirth and two were beheaded. While Catherine tried to keep her head about her to navigate the politics of her position, she brought a secret agenda. She was Protestant, believed it her duty to marry Henry, for it would be the only position in which she could convert him – and the kingdom – from his pro-Catholic position. That faith was tested when the church resisted granting his divorce from his first wife so he could marry Anne Boleyn, who would later be beheaded. With arrests, torture, and executions of Protestants on the rise, Catherine invited a dangerous game that would leave one of them dead before long. The thriller is told through Catherine’s singular point-of-view of the psychological horror of living with a monster—and the remarkable will to not only survive, but thrive.
“This a woman who deserves a portrait,” Aïnouz told Deadline. “There has been much depicted on the king and the wives that perished. It’s important to look at someone who turns out to be stronger than the forces around them. This is a modernistic look at the classic trope of the woman trapped in a castle with a monster. One of the first things that came to mind when I started this was the legend of Bluebeard. I think it’s important to revisit narratives that have been conveyed as romantic love stories. Henry was a most interesting person, but he was uber-violent, which was in tune with the times. Jude will not play him as the clichéd fat man eating the turkey leg. Jude got how complex this guy was, not a loveable character but as a most powerful man of his time. And Michelle immediately came to mind. I so admire her choices, going back to Brokeback Mountain, and there is something fascinating about her each time I rediscover her in a performance.”
In a letter from the Brazilian-born filmmaker just going out to buyers today, Aïnouz describes Parr as a “ferociously brilliant, enlightened, and emancipated woman whom I am inspired by deeply, a woman who has been largely disregarded, or certainly under-represented in English Tudor history. Much is known about Henry VIII’s tyrannical reign, much is known about the King himself, and about those who perished at his hands, but my focus here is on a woman who not only managed to survive, but also to thrive and conquer. Firebrand is the opportunity to present to larger audiences the moving portrait of a unique character in history, surprisingly untouched on the big screen until now. The story will follow the last months of Catherine Parr’s survival as Queen of England, consequently the last months of Henry VIII’s life as King. Catherine Parr was a woman who dared to dream amidst the nightmare of an abusive relationship in decay, a person who audaciously willed a new future for her own country in a world where being a woman was just an accessory reality to masculine domination—a queen that disregarded what her role prescribed her to be: either submissive or brutally murdered. To me this is a reimagining of a “period” film, we are closer here to a psychological horror film, or a political thriller—a potboiler set in superstitious, blood-soaked Tudor England, steeped in the everyday horrors of the court and the reality of surviving a tyrant. As Catherine dared to imagine her own idea of a nation, I dare to imagine the reliefs and flavors of this medieval, pre-imperial England. I imagine an invasive and brutal nature, as menacingly mysterious as the power games and conspiracies that inhabit the icy palatial corridors. The whisper of the wintry wind blending with the characters’ cries of pain, despair and hope. The burden of the unspoken, the overwhelming force of survival, the discomfort of bodies trapped in the weight of royal garments. The staggering of power mixed with the unavoidable cold of a wintry England. Something dense, intense, like the weight of matter. With Firebrand I want to bring to the screen the heat of threatened bodies, the pounding pulse of their hearts, the steam of their breaths, the apparent control of lives that are in constant threat. I see gold, posturing and violence. I imagine an opera fatale, a game of life or death, a movie with saturated colours, deep crimson and blue, a story of characters inhabiting the brutal wind of winter and the silver skies of the North.”
He said they’ve found a location and castle from the period where you “can hear the ghosts,” and that’s where they’ll shoot. Williams, who recently opened in Venom: Let There Be Carnage, is repped by CAA and John La Violette at Bloom Hergott; Law, who continues in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, is repped by CAA and Julian Belfrage Associates; Ainoz is CAA, UK-based 42 and Greg Slewett.
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