Ken and Helena: It's Official
Evening Standard (London), July
By Michael Owen
Helena Bonham Carter parked her
Diet Coke and entered a long perambulatory sentence which suggested
that it could have but one logical outcome. She finally took
a deep breath and closed the conversational meander with the
words..."and that's when Mr Branagh arrived."
There, that wasn't so difficult
after all, I suggested, and she smiled at the irony that she
had been the first to bracket their names together rather than
The subject was actually totally
innocent, as the pair are currently engaged in their most intimate
piece of work together, filming a movie in the unlikely environs
of Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. She was merely describing how
her co-star came on board.
But since a paparazzo caught
the couple embracing in the Surrey countryside the media have
constantly sought confirmation that the love affair was on, and
the two of them have doggedly responded with inventive diversionary
I told her they had raised discretion
to a new art form in their reluctance to admit to a relationship
which is now some two years old, and she grinned again when I
asked why such subterfuge was necessary.
"It's not as simple as that.
Yes, OK, of course we are together and it's very nice, thank
you very much. We have never actually sat down and decided not
to say anything or tried to make some sort of policy about it.
God knows, relationships are difficult enough and we are both
aware of the pressures that are created in this business. We
don't feel the need to talk about details of our private life.
If you concede anything then journalists always want a bit more."
She had turned up, clutching
her Coke can, for a hotel breakfast meeting. "I feel shagged,"
were her first words after a warm greeting. I took this to allude
to the exhaustion of dawn-to-dusk film-making schedules. She
was wearing regulation black trousers, denim jacket and three-inch
heels, which brought her up to conventional eye level. But even
through the presumed fatigue, the dark-pool eyes and porcelain
complexion of this waif-woman recently turned 30 [sic] still
potently held their allure.
It was probably the upbeat mood
of our meeting that allowed her the moment of unconcealed honesty,
as she is not just locked into a new film with her lover but
celebrating an accelerating departure from her image as a Pre-Raphaelite
princess of Merchant-Ivory films.
We last saw her as a dour Nova
Scotian serial murderer in Margaret's Museum, which followed
her Woody Allen film Mighty Aphrodite and her Olivia in Trevor
Nunn's screen version of Twelfth Night. Next week she will be
seen taking another quantum leap, this time into Truffaut-land.
She spent four months in Paris
making a French-language film called Portraits Chinois, where
she was the brave outsider in a thoroughly gallic cast. The result
is a triumph for her and an embraceable movie that shines like
a beacon through the gloom of this cinematically lackluster summer.
Set in the Paris fashion community,
the film follows a loosely knit group of people who commit all
of life's small deceptions and indiscretions but somehow stay
together. She plays a designer's assistant full of surface gloss
but whose job and relationships are quietly sliced away from
"I'd always wanted to make
one of those old-fashioned French movies. My mother is half French
and most of the family is bilingual but they didn't know about
that background when they sent the script to me. I was given
an English translation."
With her A-level French long
receded, she threw herself into a language class then headed
for Paris. "When the director first met me, her face fell.
She was expecting to see all the hair but I'd just cut it off.
She's had an image of me which I'd just exploded. But we read
the script together and got on fine."
She installed herself in a St
Germain apartment and hung out round the cafes and bistros in
her spare time. "I was on my own but I never felt isolated,
not like I have done sometimes in New York. Paris is very friendly,
it's OK to be alone. And it forced me to use my French.
"But I was worried about
the rest of the cast, because they all knew each other. In the
event, they were incredibly warm and supportive."
She came home to run up another
rack of films, still awaiting to release, which will show her
in a further variety of guises. She made the screen adaptation
of Ayckbourn's The Revengers' Comedies with Sam Neill, Alan Plater's
version of Orwell's Keep the Apidistra Flying with Richard E.
Grant and Henry James's Wings of the Dove.
This relentless industry needed
explanation. "I used to have this appalling inability to
say no. But I'm definitely better at saying no to what's not
appropriate. The opportunities do seem to be there and I think
I'm getting better at choosing what might be best."
The theatre is not on her agenda
at present. "I can't commit to a dinner date in a week's
time let alone an eight-month run with a tour."
Her move into her own home, an
artist's studio around the corner from her parental home in Golders
Green where she has lived thus far, is stalled until planning
consents arrive. "My family is getting used to learning
the progress from newspapers rather than me," she said wryly.
Back in Merthyr Tydfil Miss Bonham
Carter had to climb into a wheelchair. The film with Ken is called
The Theory of Flight, a first screenplay by Richard Hawkins,
who sent his script unsolicited and unannounced to the BBC. It
casts the actress as a motor neurone disease sufferer befriended
by a minor criminal on community service, played by Branagh.
"It's not just a wheelchair
film. The character is vivid and vital," she says. "It
came to me and I said yes immediately. Ken was intrigued about
me banging on about the quality of it, then the dates fell into
place so he could join too...and that's when Mr Branagh arrived."
They are being driven to the
set in separate cars but no one on the film doubts their pleasure
at being locked together for a period of weeks when their work
more often drags them apart.
"There's no romance in the
film, just a deepening friendship," she said. "But
it's so good to be working with Ken this closely. It's more fun
when you know someone that well and we have a lot of laughs,
even if I do tend to laugh at all the wrong moments."
She was still smiling when I
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