Iain Softley on 'Trap for Cinderella'

Ashley Clark

Based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Sébastien Japrisot, Iain Softley’s Trap For Cinderella is a twisty, Nouvelle Vague-inspired thriller. Transplanted to London from its original French setting, it tells the story of a young woman (Tuppence Middleton) suffering from amnesia who, after surviving the house fire that took the life of her childhood friend (Alexandra Roach), begins a tormented road to recovery. We sat down with Softley recently to discuss the film’s origins and his experiences getting it to the screen. Could we resist the temptation to ask him about his 1995 cyber-thriller Hackers? Read on to find out...

GFW: This is a passion project for you. I heard that you started work on the film 12 years ago?
Iain Softley: I started to work on a number of things. I think that’s part of the process ...  People come back to things they always wanted to do. Really, I consider it to have started in earnest in 2008 when I decided to write it. Then I had to put it aside when I had the opportunity to put Backbeat [a musical version of Softley’s 1995 film about The Beatles] on the stage and direct it. I thought, “whatever happens, these are going to be my next two projects.” I’ve managed to do that, so now I’ve got to move on!

What attracted you to the book in the first place?
A number of things. The central character was an anti-heroine, fascinated by playing with fire. I was interested in why we find these people fascinating; people who are destructive and charismatic, have unfettered appetites, are inquisitive, curious, bold, daring and fearless to the point of almost endangering themselves. They seem to have a confidence and a super-humanity about them. I know a couple of people like that who have passed away, and it’s clear to me that, from their perspective, life is a completely different experience than what it looks like to us looking at them. I was challenged by the book because it’s written from two narrative perspectives, Micky (Middleton) and Do (Barnard). It was an interesting way to create a fractured narrative where it wasn’t clear to the characters or the audience whether it was a dream or a reliable or an unreliable memory.

And did you see the original film (directed, in 1965, by Andre Cayette – according to Wikipedia)?
I’ve never seen the original! I’ve never met anybody that’s seen the original. In fact, Japrisot [the author of the novel] himself said it doesn’t really exist – it never came out. People talk about it being a remake, but… I tried to get a potential French producer to find it, but it doesn’t exist. We’ll now find that someone says, “yes, it does exist” – which would be great, because I’d like to know more about it!

What are some of the key issues in adapting a novel for the screen, especially a mystery?
I think you have to re-imagine it. You have to not assume that if it worked in the novel, it will work in the same way on the screen. You’ve got to tell it through dramatic encounters that move the story forward. But I also think the characters have to be more three-dimensional because you make a lot of allowances when you’re reading a book. If you’re reading a character’s thoughts, you get a sense of who they are because you think that you’re inside their head. When you turn the camera back and look on that person, often the information is quite sad and harsh. I’ve often found that with adaptations, the narrator is the least dramatic character. If they’re to be the central character in the story, you’ve got to create more ambiguity and more interplay with other characters. They can’t just be standing outside observing.

The other thing that I think is important is that you’ve got to make it your own. So the more I redrafted, the more it became like a thing of new fiction and I was drawing on experiences from my past that I’ve either observed or happened to me.

When did you decide you would set the film in East London?
There was a number of things that came together at the same time. There was budget; we had to make it as low budget as possible, so opting to not make it a period piece or set it in Paris made sense. I then realised I hadn’t made a contemporary film in London, which is where I’m from, where I’ve lived all my life. I’ve made contemporary films in New Orleans in New York, but not in London. And I realised that the East End in London now, its bohemian, indie scene, is probably much more equivalent to Paris in the ‘60s and ‘70s than Paris today – it’s got that excitement. I thought it was an interesting place to set the story.

How did you go about casting the leads?
When I decided to do this really low budget film – we shot in five and a half weeks and shot on Super 16 so we could be free and quick, jump out of the car and shoot on the street – we didn’t have the money or the time to go to movie stars. It was very liberating. My casting director and I did lots of auditions and different combinations of actresses. The more I saw Middleton and Barnard, they more kept performing at the top level. This is relatively the beginning of their careers, so these are the biggest roles they’ve done to date. That was exciting, because there was a freshness to both of them. 

Style-wise, the film has Hitchcock and French New Wave influences.
I was a fan of the French New Wave, but I didn’t want to make a retro film. I did think, from a practical point of view, “how did they make these films for so little money”? They’d find places, a friend of a friend had a house and they’d go and stay there and they’d all eat together. The budget came back and said we could afford to film in France for two days. Instead, we just went to France and said to people, this is how much money we’ve got, can we shoot here? The French New Wave filmmakers also used to shoot on Super-16 a lot, which is very light, very quick; plus I prefer the look. There’s an aesthetic to it, it’s got more range. In the south of France, it’d be much flatter because the highlights burn out - so there’s more texture. The girls’ faces are more textured, there’s more subtlety.

Finally, we’re big fans of your film [1995 cyber-thriller] Hackers? Did you know it’d become a cult film?
The established media were quite snooty about it, with the notable exceptions of Mark Kermode and Nigel Floyd, who were champions at the get-go. I think it spoke to people who were 15,16 to 18 maybe. And there weren’t that many films that were specifically for that age group that they felt was their own. We shot Hackers first, and Trainspotting came out after; and I love Trainspotting, but I think it was for an older audience. I think for people who are now older, who maybe had seen Hackers when they were 12 or so, it was first thing like that they’d seen. That’s why it had traction with a certain group of people and went over some people’s heads at the time.

'Trap for Cinderella' is released in cinemas this Friday.

Images via Think Jam

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