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'Alice, Darling': Anna Kendrick's most impactful work depicting an abusive relationship

"The abuse doesn't have to be physical in order to leave," producer Lindsay Tapscott, from the Toronto-based production company Babe Nation, says

Anna Kendrick stepped into her most impactful, chilling role to date as a woman in an abusive relationship in Alice, Darling (now in theatres), directed by Mary Nighy, and produced by Katie Bird Nolan and Lindsay Tapscott’s Toronto-based production company Babe Nation.

Alice, Darling’s lead character, Alice (Kendrick), is introduced to the audience as a particularly anxious person. She has two best friends, Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn) and Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku), but when she’s spending time with them, Alice is constantly thinking about her boyfriend Simon (Charlie Carrick). She specifically says that she’s always thinking about ways to “be better” and that she’s “never good enough.”

The three friends decide to go on a trip outside of the city, staying in a cabin by the lake, but Alice feels the need to lie to Simon about where she’s going. As Alice spends more time with her friends, it ends up being the place where she begins to acknowledge her trauma and just how toxic her relationship is.

Wunmi Mosaku, Anna Kendrick and Kaniehtiio Horn in
Wunmi Mosaku, Anna Kendrick and Kaniehtiio Horn in "Alice, Darling" (Courtesy of TIFF)

'The abuse doesn't have to be physical in order to leave'

While much of what we see when it comes to abusive relationships depicted in movies and TV are very physical, very brash, Alice, Darling explores abuse differently. Emotional abuse that is more about coercion and control.

“I was really drawn to how so much of what happens to the central character, Alice, is psychological and internal, and I thought that'd be a great challenge,” Nighy told Yahoo Canada during the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last year. “How do you bring that out? How do you make the audience aware of it?”

“We had a lot of discussions at every stage about, how much do the friends know? I think a big aspect of how much we reveal, or don't reveal, is that Alice is in denial .… We thought a lot about, what can we show in terms of flashes, little tiny moments where we flash to something else, just for a second, that will give the audience a sense of what she's thinking about.”

For Nolan and Tapscott, speaking to Yahoo Canada last month, they indicated there was an "ongoing conversation," from the minute they read Alanna Francis' script, about depicting the internal struggle Alice has throughout the film.

"Normally any of these stories tend to be quite sensationalized on the screen and it's very clear that this is abuse and this is a bad guy, and who to hate, but what we liked about Alice, Darling was that the emotional abuse was so subtle that you were constantly questioning," Tapscott said. "Is this abuse or is he just having a bad day? Is he just kind of a d-ck, or is he an abuser?"

"It was really important to us to tell a story that communicated the message that the abuse doesn't have to be physical in order to leave."

"The team unanimously agreed that it was good if there were some audience members leaving the movie theatre being like, 'Was that abuse? I'm not sure,'" Nolan added. "That's the whole point, when you're in Alice's situation it's so consuming that you don't even trust your own opinion of what's happening, and you should be able to trust your gut and your instinct to leave, or to fight back or to remove yourself from the situation."

This image released by Lionsgate shows Anna Kendrick in a scene from
This image released by Lionsgate shows Anna Kendrick in a scene from "Alice, Darling." (Lionsgate via AP)

Much of the film hinges on Kendrick’s captivating and affecting performance. It's the powerful moments of silence, or Alice doing something small like pulling her hair, that are particularly powerful in understanding what this character is thinking.

Nighy indicated there were a lot of discussions with Kendrick about how to represent emotional abuse authentically, and not leaning into any trope of objectification or sensationalism.

“It was absolutely fascinating to work with Anna Kendrick and we had lots of discussions over Zoom ... about, how do you represent this authentically? How do we show this in a way that might not have been seen before?” Nighy said.

The Assistant film was a reference because we thought what was left out of that film was very clever, and human. For example, you never see the male character in The Assistant, the lead who is the subject of all the drama, and we found that to be very intelligent and interesting.”

This image released by Lionsgate shows director Mary Nighy, from left, with actors Wunmi Mosaku, Kaniehtiio Horn and Anna Kendrick on the set of
This image released by Lionsgate shows director Mary Nighy, from left, with actors Wunmi Mosaku, Kaniehtiio Horn and Anna Kendrick on the set of "Alice, Darling." (Lionsgate via AP)

'Women are socialized to tolerate a lot of pain'

An interesting aspect of the Alice, Darling story is showing the process of a woman getting validation for her feelings and getting to a point where she believes her feelings are justified. Alice also works through discussions where she says things like, “he doesn’t hurt me or anything,” in her denial of the abuse.

“I think, on a general level, women are socialized to tolerate a lot of pain,” Nighy said. “I think there's still, sadly, a narrative around that it's important to have a partner at all costs and that to some extent your professional achievements are offset by your romantic life, and what that should look like.”

“I think within the film, we sought to have Alice leave the city because we thought that, as a character, if she stayed within the apartment that she shares with her boyfriend, and in that life where everything is ordered and controlled, and to some extent curtailed by him, and that she completely accepts, she would never really be able to see outside of it.”

Tapscott also indicated that she believes there's a "baseline" that women have to first think, "am I wrong?" Questioning feelings first.

"But then you pop Alice into this situation of coercive control, and it's like, you just turn that dial up on high," she said.

This image released by Lionsgate shows Anna Kendrick, left, and Charlie Carrick in a scene from
This image released by Lionsgate shows Anna Kendrick, left, and Charlie Carrick in a scene from "Alice, Darling." (Lionsgate via AP)

'Abuse comes in many forms'

In order to really effectively portray the character of Alice, the same has to be done to portray her abuser, Simon. Tapscott explained that the intention was to ensure that he wasn't immediately seen as a "villain."

"Then you have 80 minutes left of the movie where the audience will just be like, 'well just leave,'" Tapscott explained. "We wanted the audience to go on the same journey that Alice was going on, where you're charmed by Simon."

"His role was the hardest to cast," Nolan added. "I think we looked for Simons for over a year."

"We all saw [Charlie Carrick's] tape and it was chilling because like he's so effusive, and cute and charming and smart, and then he just turns. And there was like this darkness that he had and it was terrifying."

Ultimately, for people who go to watch Alice, Darling, director Nighy indicated it’s important to be able to see that “abuse comes in many forms."

“When Anna and I had our initial Zoom about the film, one of the things that she said, which resonated very much me, is that she hopes that somebody who's in a relationship like this might be able to see themselves,” Nighy said.