What film references did you work from to create your own vision of the story?
AF: I have a ton, and for a lot of different reasons. I think what I gravitated to were old romances, even a lot of old black and white films, like “Brief Encounter” and “Casablanca.” But then “Phantom Thread” was a big visual for Jennifer’s house, and it had that softness. And with the Riviera scenes, “Bonjour Tristesse,” “Purple Noon,” these great old films that had such vivid colors. And I remember just saying, “I want it to be really bright, but also soft.” I wanted to have these great colors. My production designer, he bought these gorgeous umbrellas for the beach, and I was like, “They’re too bright!” And he said, “We’re going to age them, don’t worry!” [laughs]. There was this beautiful pastel palette, and we worked from a lot of photographs like Slim Aarons, and some paintings. A lot of references.
And then modern day, “Notting Hill” was such a big influence. I loved that movie, so we had a lot of things like that.
One of the more curious changes from the book concerns how Jennifer’s marriage, and her situation with her husband Laurence, unfolds differently. Was there a big discussion about that?
JM: I think it’s just space, it’s the old problem that to fit certain things in, you have to work out what you’re going to lose. We could have added another hour to that film easily, and it’s a very long and convoluted book so that It was really about staying true to the spirit of it. And if I’m honest, when I look back on that book which I wrote 15 years ago or so now, I have no idea how I strung that plot together. It’s so complicated. And so for me, just the fact that Augustine has managed to create a plot which makes sense, which leads the audience around has a bit of intrigue and a bit of mystery, but doesn’t confuse the audience ever, I feel like that’s the achievement. So I’m not going to get icky about elements that had to go. Also, this isn’t my first time at the rodeo, I understand that you have to make sacrifices.
AF: It was hard, I have to say. Modulating Laurence’s storyline was one of the most challenging aspects of it, because there was so much more that I wanted to include of Laurence, and so much more about … we had a million conversations. How did they meet? Why does she want to be with him? What does this mean about who she is? How do we show why she would be with someone like that, because he had to have a charming side. That was important to me. You’re seeing this person who is controlling and demanding, and maybe mildly abusive, but also what drew her to him? So he needed to be really charming and really handsome, so all of these things that a woman might fall for, and you realize, Oh god, the rug’s been pulled from under me. I’m with this person who is not great. But it was tricky and we didn’t have time, so I look at that as we … should have a prequel? [laughs] And show Laurence and Jennifer meeting, how did they fall in love? What was Ellie’s relationship before?