The history behind "Another Life"
Writer/director Philip Goodhew first became intrigued with Edith Thompson's story about ten years ago, when he was researching a series of true life crimes - the same time he uncovered the material for his first feature, Intimate Relations (1996) which starred Julie Walters and Rupert Graves.
In 1996 Goodhew and producer Angela Hart, his partner in the independent production company Boxer Films, first set about getting the project off the ground. By April 1997 they had submitted an application to the Arts Council of England for Lottery funding. Finally in November 1998, the Arts Council awarded them £935,000 towards the final budget of £2. 5 million. £300,000 was provided by Winchester Films as a guarantee against UK distribution and the remainder came from Lucida Film Investments.
"I've sort of known about Edith Thompson's story my whole life" says writer/director Philip Goodhew, "I remember a TV series in the 70's with Francesca Annis, it was an adaptation of a novel written in the 30's based on Edie's story. I was attracted to it because it's the story of a real woman and her inner world. We all have these inner lives and inner dreams - be they good or bad and we all indulge our fantasies. But with Edith Thompson, the spotlight was suddenly turned on her life because of the actions of someone else and she was completely judged for her dreams".
Who was Edith Thompson?
Edith Thompson was born Edith Graydon, an middle class, Edwardian girl from Manor Park, a small suburb to the East of London. She came from a respectable, close-knit, loving family and was adored by her parents, younger sister Avis and her brothers. Edith was a thoroughly modern young woman, she forged a career for herself as a bookeeper with top London milliner's Carlton & Prior, a move that was unheard of in those fledgling days of women's liberation.
During the First World War, she married Percy Thompson after a brief courtship. It was a relationship based on friendship rather than passion and Edith married him because getting married was "the thing to do". Despite the fact that she was terribly bright, independent and earned more money than her husband, in those days when women had only just got the vote, a woman needed a man for respectability.
When the young Freddie Bywaters came in to Edith's life it seemed her fantasies were becoming a reality. Ten years her junior and her sister Avis' suitor, Freddie was exciting, passionate and youthful. He was a sailor and had travelled the world from an early age, Fred offered Edie tales of his experiences and an insight into another world far away from Manor Park and Ilford. Most importantly, he indulged Edie, something the dull, conservative Percy would never do.
"It's cowardice really but it's human" says Philip Goodhew, "people have to internalise everything to get on with their ordinary day. So often they don't pursue their dreams and live life the way they really want to. They feel trapped. If Edie had left Percy she would have been punished by society, she would probably have lost her job, without a job how would she live? Freddie would probably have lost his job and the whole scandal would have been too much to bear".
"Edith just went about things the wrong way and it ended tragically. The film's not about tragedy, it's the getting there, her daily life and how she longs for life to be bigger. It was all in her hands and that's the sad thing, if she was brave enough, as Mr Carlton says to her, 'she could fly'". "But like all of us" concludes Goodhew, "we say sod the neighbours, I'm going to do what I want to do, but for some reason most of us don't and we just carry on feeling trapped".
Edith Thompson and Freddie Bywaters enjoyed a passionate and very sexually-charged love affair, but Edie's cowardice and inability to leave a dead marriage led to a build up in Fred's frustration until it reach volcanic proportions. He stabbed Percy to death on 3rd October 1922 as he walked home from Ilford station at 11. 10 p. m. after an evening at the theatre with his wife.
Freddie Bywaters always maintained that his lover Edith Thompson had no hand whatsoever in the murder of her husband Percy. Despite this she was tried at the Old Bailey with Freddie and both were sent to the gallows. Edie was hanged at Holloway Prison in January 1923. She was twenty-nine years of age.
Edith Thompson was hanged for her lifestyle. Edwardian society couldn't cope with "that kind of woman". She threatened the respectability and stability of the establishment and everything it stood for. She was attractive and vibrant, she bobbed her hair, she liked to dance - she and Freddie frequently enjoyed the Palm Court tea dances at the Waldorf Hotel and heaven forbid - she liked sex.
The rumours and scandal were rife - the abortion, the letters plotting to kill Percy, she was a harlot because she wore perfume and was above herself because she'd been to Paris and could speak French.
The jury that passed a guilty verdict was made up mostly of men, Edith stood little chance of reprieve in Edwardian England. In the weeks leading up to her hanging, photographs showed that she had gained weight, even though she was hardly eating, sparking rumours that she was pregnant when she died.
"When people see this film, I think they'll be really shocked that this woman's life was taken from her because she was deemed to be a scarlet woman" says producer Angela Hart, "she was judged so quickly because she'd made mistakes, committed adultery, probably had an abortion. In the jury's mind, if she was capable of these things, she was capable of murdering her husband".
Edith's story or The Ilford Murder is it was known, wasn't quickly forgotten. Shortly afterwards, Ellis the hangman committed suicide and the prison governor spent the rest of his life campaigning against capital punishment. Though quite astonishingly, the Home Office files on the hanging were ordered to be closed for a hundred years.
Edith Thompson was a woman born in the wrong era and punished for it with her life.
"Natasha was my personal first choice for the role of Edith" says Philip Goodhew, "I'd met her and she understood the script totally. Ioan Gruffudd was actually the first actor on board. I saw a trailer of him as 'Hornblower' and was stunned at how similar he was to the real Freddie Bywaters. Nick Moran was a really interesting piece of casting, he was completely against type, so for me Nick was perfect and he's done a fantastic job. Most people will be wondering what he's doing playing that role because it's a period piece and he's not playing the baddie. Also, with Ioan, because of 'Hornblower', people will be expecting him to be the hero. On one hand he is the romantic hero, but he's also the killer, so he's the baddie. Nick's playing the pathetic, wimpy husband and he absolutely pulls it off - you really get irritated with him, then suddenly he breaks your heart".
"The character Mr Carlton, is Edith's boss and he's the one who sees her potential. He's quite hypocritical though - he doesn't live life the way he advises her to and I wanted someone with real weight and presence to play him. I was amazed when Tom Wilkinson agreed to do it. Imelda Staunton plays Edie's mother, she's known for her comedy, but I love actors who have such range as her".
The look and feel of 'Another Life'
"Because of this woman's sentimental romanticism, when we start off with the Christmas scene, this section of the film is so obviously through her eyes. I wanted it to be a sort of heightened reality" says writer/director Philip Goodhew, "I wanted us to see her life through Technicolour, yet it's an ordinary house in Manor Park where she grew up and I wanted the colour to disappear gradually. We start off in the family home and there are deep reds and bright colours and her red hair. Edith was a redhead, but I really wanted to go to town and get a rich colour in her hair and all her clothes. Edith and Percy's marital home is slightly colder - the yellows aren't warm yellows. Then everything goes completely pear-shaped in the prison and it's all greys and reality steps in. The final scene is reduced to her in a black dress, the grey cobbles and a noose"
"The look we were going for was a real story book, larger-than-life feel, because Edie sees everything through these rose-coloured spectacles" says producer Angela Hart, "there's this heightened reality and we've even built the sets slightly larger than they would have been and the colours are all heightened."
From a filmmaking viewpoint, one of Philip Goodhew's favourite scenes is the picnic scene in Epping Forest: "all the family are in the forest looking ridiculous with tables, silverware, decanters and all sorts of pomp and rubbish. I love the way it's cut together and the whole undertones and the way Natasha plays Edie, trying to be perky, whilst she's obviously in complete despair and no-one notices apart from Freddie, who is playing her along, flirting with her, but she doesn't really know where she stands. She covers it all up by trying to be bright and breezy and by toasting her parents. Underneath this bright exterior, there's all there's a kind of bickering going on. I love that scene".
"I also love the scene with Freddie and Avis on the beach when he dumps her. She has this sweetness that comes out of that awful Edwardian upbringing, when really she should just say 'what are you messing me around for?'. Women then were taught not to make a fuss and not to expect too much. I love the way Rachael Stirling and Ioan play that".
"Natasha was absolutely brilliant in the courtroom scene, there are some wonderful big moments, but there are also these amazing undercurrents, particularly when Percy brings Edie a cup of tea after her abortion and he says 'let's make a go of it'. It's all the things that aren't being said and the hopelessness of the situation".
Goodhew is also very proud of having a love scene rather than a sex scene. "It's always hard trying to find some original way of saying 'I love you' and it's lovely the way Ioan does his little Charlie Chaplin bit - it's his way of saying it and you realise that it's not just about sex, he makes her laugh too. That moment isn't about sex, it's playful, they actually care about each other and he gives her everything she never gets from Percy".
On the appeal of the film, Goodhew doesn't feel it takes an anti-man stance, but it will certainly appeal to women of all age groups. "It's a good romantic weave, it's a good date movie in a strange way because it's very cathartic. It's not depressing or an analytical discussion about capital punishment, it's a huge emotional rollercoaster. I always think you have to come out of a good date movie roaring with laughter or weeping, then you're either on a high or you can go off and comfort each other!"
"The themes are universal" says Goodhew, "there's a scene where Percy is breaking down and she says to him, 'Just let me go, it's not you, it's not me, it's just marriage'. This is the only point where they ever talk properly about the situation rather than needling each other and getting on each other's nerves and not admitting what what's happening and I'm sure that's true of many relationships".
"It's important to stress that Edie is great fun, she's a character you really like and can really relate to. I don't want people latching on to the death and hanging. It's a famous murder story, but the reason for making it was that it's a bio-pic of an ordinary London girl who was full of spirit, romance and a lust for life".
Actress Natasha Little, who plays Edie, thinks it's a great love story and being based on fact adds an extra element, "I also think a lot of period dramas tend to concentrate on the upper classes, whilst this deals with ordinary people, she comes from a suburban background, so it's interesting to focus on that side of life for a change".
"It's got all the aesthetics of a Merchant Ivory film and the production have pulled off little miracles with the look of it" says actor Nick Moran, "with all these extras, fantastic sets and amazing camera shots. I don't' think any of those Merchant Ivory films ever had a woman getting hanged and a bloke getting stabbed thirty times though. It's great for me, no guns and no swearing, it's just a very emotional, powerful film. You haven't got your predictable Helena Bonham-Blah Blahs and famous actor's children in this, instead you've got the bloke from Hornblower, the bloke from Lock Stock and the girl from Vanity Fair and that guy from Full Monty, the (1997) and that's very refreshing".
General Production Information
The unit's main base over the six week shooting schedule was Three Mills Studios, in Bow East London, which was home to the interior sets for Shakespeare Crescent (Edie's family home in Manor Park) and The Retreat (Edie and Percy's marital home in Ilford).
Key locations included Muswell Hill, which was used for night time exteriors for the stabbing scene, Brompton Cemetery, the Masonic Hall in Great Queen Street near Covent Garden, which doubled for the Old Bailey and Hastings for the beach scene with Edie, Percy, Freddie and Avis.
A number of spooky events and coincidences occurred on several occasions, actor Nick Moran takes up the story: "There was a fire at the studio on the first day, about a week later our First A/D had a heart attack, but the strangest one for me happened when we were working at the Masonic Hall one weekend. I'd been in prosthetics for two hours, having these savage stab wounds created, which were really accurate to the coroner's report on Percy. As I was lying on the slab, at 11. 10 p. m. on 3rd October, someone pointed out to me that it was the anniversary to the hour of Percy's stabbing".
The very same location was used for the Courtroom scene, Producer Angela Hart recalls, "It was a really weird day, really thundery and raining heavily in the afternoon, the jury had returned a guilty verdict and as the Judge sentenced Edie there was a huge clap of thunder. Really strange. The whole crew found that day really harrowing, particularly when she was dragged from the Courtroom screaming her innocence".
For Natasha Little one of the eeriest scenes apart from the sentencing, was when the unit were filming in Epping Forest, "it was really odd to think that we were walking in their footsteps and at a place where she'd actually been with her family".
On another occasion, a member of the Art Department's mother was visiting a friend in Hampshire and they went off to a pub for lunch and the friend asked what her daughter was working on. She told her she was working on a film about Edith Thompson, at which point a man came over and said, 'I wasn't eavesdropping but couldn't help overhearing and I have to tell you that Edith Thompson was my great aunt!'"
Actor Ioan Gruffudd (Freddie Bywaters) recalls being driven through the East End of London to Three Mills Studio and was pretty spooked out when he kept seeing skips and lorries with the Bywaters name on the side.
It wasn't all spooky incidents, cast and crew had plenty of laughs too. The day at the seaside was possibly the funniest and one that confirmed the warning about not working with children or animals. "Those donkeys just didn't like us" says Nick Moran, "they'd been eeyoring all over the place and one of them just charged off with Natasha on it. We could have done with a donkey wrangler that day. It was a nightmare, you'd have this lovely shot of the beach and the sun was shining, we'd be just about ready to turn over and then the bloody donkey would decide to have a shit. As soon as action was called they'd veer off and poor Tash was sat on the back trying to look elegant! I was sat on one for a solid hour at one point, my legs were killing me by the end and I ended up with fleas!"
Jokes and fun aside, the whole experience seems to have been a very enjoyable one for all concerned, "It wasn't just a bit of a jolly" says Nick Moran, "we didn't go off to any amazing location and get sunburnt and no-one had any stories of lap-dancing bars, it was just a joy to work on and every day was really productive and everyone was really supportive of each other. It's a real ensemble piece and there were no egos and Philip cast people who really gelled".
"Philip was great" says Ioan Gruffudd, "he's a director who has acted himself and he understands. He wrote the piece as well so he knows it back-to-front. When I found out he'd acted too, it was quite a proud moment for me. He really thought I could do it and we had a great time together, it was a very easy, smooth relationship".
"Philip is so passionate about the story" says Natasha Little, "he's terrific - so easy to work with and open to ideas. I also felt very lucky to be working with Nick and Ioan. In the scenes with Nick I was so amazed because it was so off type".
When the film opens, Natasha Little is going to be the envy of a lot of young girls, having love scenes with two of our hottest young male leads, "we did all the bedroom scenes in one day, so I had Ioan in the morning and Nick in the afternoon". -It's a tough life.
NATASHA LITTLE on playing Edith Thompson
"When I first read the script, I found it quite amazing that it was a true story, it's extraordinary that it actually happened".
"Edie was a woman so full of life and she had such an incredible imagination and such a joy for living. She was a very attractive personality and terribly intelligent. By the age of sixteen she was earning more than her father. She came from a very suburban background and was very keen to prove herself and as a result a lot of people thought she was too big for her boots. Her work took her to Paris on occasion and she spoke French, so this all added to it".
"I've read Edie's letters to Freddie and she had such enthusiasm and this huge imagination and great capacity for love and romance. This is the first time I've played a historical character, so it's been amazing and it was fantastic to have those letters to draw on".
"A lot of articles have been written about her. TS Eliot wrote a really scathing one. There were a lot of negative feelings towards her because of her class. The intelligentsia patronized her because she wasn't working class, nor was she one of them, so she was made an example of. The feeling was, how dare this suburban woman have a young lover. I read one article that insinuated that she was a scarlet woman because she perfumed herself, that she was a harlot and deserved everything she got".
"She was witty and funny, a very bright spark, yet when she was in prison, she was clearly terrified and that makes her very human and very ordinary underneath it all".
"I looked at a lot of pictures of her so as to get the mannerisms right. There was also a piece in one of her letters where she talks about hating having her photograph taken, so in a lot of the photographs that aren't posed, you get a real essence of the woman".
"The terms she uses for her lover in the letters give you a sense of who she was and how she had this lovely sense of humour and irony even when things were truly miserable in her life. She was such a romantic, she lived in her head and in this fantasy world with Freddie. She knew it was a fantasy, but with Fred, the lines became a little blurred. His letters to her were beautiful too, they were surprisingly poetic".
"It must have been an awful sensation for her, having all those private letters about her feelings and her life read out in court and used in evidence against her. I hate writing anything, I find putting anything to paper like that really difficult. How could you possibly explain all those intimate words to anyone apart from the person you've written them for? Edie's shared jokes, experiences and fantasies were taken as reality".
IOAN GRUFFUDD on playing Freddie Bywaters
"I'd heard about the case before I read the script, but I didn't have any huge insight into it. I loved the script, I'd only really done Hornblower before and was absolutely chuffed to be offered the part of a lover and a murderer with a Cockney accent, I was thrilled that Philip, as a director had seen the potential in me".
"I had a dialect coach to help me with Freddie's Cockney accent. Nick Moran keeps pulling my leg and telling people I'm from Cardiff, just outside Ilford!"
"I can relate to Freddie in the fact that he was totally in love with this woman, and I mean genuinely in love with her, with all those obsessive needs. Not to say I get obsessed with my girlfriends of course, but I can understand him. Though I obviously can't appreciate what he did because I've never been in that sort of state of envy or jealousy, to achieve that it's purely acting and imagination. I like the fact that he was playful, cheeky, confident and passionate".
"Meeting Edith inspired him, she opened up his world into one of imagination and fantasy, whereas before he'd never have done that. He was a bit of a bruiser as a youngster and he was very angry, then all of a sudden this woman opened his mind to all these possibilities and to her heart and he fell in love with her".
"He expressed himself very passionately in his letters, then it got to the stage where he wanted to be with her so badly, his old angry self came back. He got frustrated and passion turned to anger and that's why he killed Percy".
One of Ioan's most memorable scenes was with Natasha Little under the bridge where he loses his temper with her for the first time. "I don't really express anger myself, and when we rehearsed it, it was quite mild, then when we turned over Philip told me to just go for it. I did - it just came from nowhere. As an actor, the way it bubbled over like that was great".
"It helped that Natasha and I had worked together before. The fact that you have a relationship off-camera lends itself well. Whenever you look into each other's eyes on camera there's a relationship there anyway regardless of the character's relationship, so we just built on that".
NICK MORAN on playing Percy Thompson
"It was the idea of playing someone real that attracted me. Previously I'd spent a bit of time in the States on a film with a gun strapped to my armpit and a pair of shades on saying 'I'm an undercover cop' and I thought it was a load of toss. To do something that was based on reality really appealed to me".
"When I first read the script Percy seemed really dull, but when you look deeper than the dialogue, you realise he's got a dilemma on his hands and he's a poor sorry bastard and I realised I could really do something with that. The interesting thing is that boring people don't think they're boring, violent people don't think they're violent and stupid people don't think they're stupid, so as an actor, the challenge was to create a fascinatingly boring Percy. He's got all his little suburban routines, he's thoroughly meticulous and has an understanding of the world that doesn't include women with bobbed hair who are voting".
"It's the birth of a new era, yet Percy is a traditional Victorian bloke, married at the age of twenty-five, working in a nice steady job as a shipping clerk. He didn't think of himself as boring, he thought he was a pretty outgoing chap, but he just can't cope with the environment he's living in".
"He's married the wrong woman. He's stuck in this marriage and can't let her go and won't entertain the idea of a divorce. Percy has to live with her blatantly cuckolding him and has a breakdown as a consequence. He becomes aggressive as a result, hits her and forces himself on her. He does all those horrible things, but they're sort of justified in his own story".
"This role is such a departure for me, playing an anally-retentive, impotent, Victorian fuddy-duddy is about as far away from Lock Stock and card sharks as you can possibly get".
"It's amazing playing someone real, it's not like saying you've worked as a cabbie or a miner for a week. I had this stack of newspaper articles and pictures of Percy to research him, at one point I wanted to dye my hair ginger so I'd be authentic, but they were worried about my roots".
"There were things that came out in the court case that gave me an amazing insight into him. Apparently his brother came to visit one day and Percy was lying prostrate on the grass and Edie was pruning the roses. Percy's brother asked Edie what was wrong and she replied, 'oh he's having a heart attack… you know, one of his turns, it's best just to leave him'. This made me realise that Percy was just desperate for attention. The chain-smoking was another of his traits and the whole idea that he'd rather smoke himself into an early grave, rather than go and fight in the First World War".
"I saw some pictures of him with his pipe and he looks much older than he was. He looked like he was in his late 30's when really he was only about twenty-five. You get the idea that he wasn't the most playful character. He had an old soul".