December 12, 2011  •  Comments Off on Vanessa Kirby: A Dickens leading lady with a dark side Articles, Interviews

Kirby had a small part in The Hour but made a big impact. Now, she’s starring as the heartbreaker from Great Expectations.

The first time I saw Vanessa Kirby, she was dead within 20 minutes. Yet the rising British star made a considerable impression as the luckless debutante Ruth Elms in this year’s hit BBC2 series The Hour. Beautiful yet fragile, her blonde hair piled high, her presence haunted the show (as well as Ben Whishaw’s enamoured investigative reporter) almost effortlessly. Little wonder Paul Taylor, in these very pages, noted Kirby was “a star if ever I saw one”, when he reviewed this year’s Royal Court production of Anya Reiss’s The Acid Test, in which she starred.

Today, thankfully, she’s very much alive and in good spirits. We meet in the bar of the Covent Garden Hotel. It’s busy and our waiter seems to be rather in a mood when he brings us a pot of tea to share. “Wow, he’s really grumpy,” she whispers. “I don’t see the point of grumpy people.” Dressed in a baggy blue-and-white striped sweater and skinny jeans, Kirby is slender, willowy and blessed with entrancing blue eyes. Next to her is a large handbag, heaving with scripts for the TV mini-series Labyrinth – a Ridley Scott production which she is about to start shooting in France and South Africa, alongside Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay.

This Christmas, Kirby will be on our screens again in a new three-part BBC version of the Charles Dickens classic Great Expectations. She’s playing that most heartless of characters, Estella, following in the footsteps of Jean Simmons, Francesca Annis and Gwyneth Paltrow. Kirby “deliberately” didn’t revisit any previous versions. “I only really looked at the novel and the script. And I wrote pages of notes. I stuck them all around my bedroom. She’s such an ambiguous character. Really difficult, actually. Nothing about what’s happening outside is going on inside. There’s never a moment where she is at one with herself.”

Adapted by Sarah Phelps, who previously wrote a 2007 version of Oliver Twist, it forms the centrepiece of the BBC’s celebration of all things Dickens as we approach the bicentenary of his birth in 2012. “It’s very loyal to the novel,” says Kirby, “but I think there’s a raw edge to it and a darkness that isn’t in some of the other adaptations.” She praises the way it’s been cast. Douglas Booth (recently Boy George in Worried About the Boy) plays the orphaned Pip, who falls for the “vile” Estella. “Douglas is 19 and in the previous versions the actors have all been a bit older.”

Read the full article/interview in our press library.

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