The Evolution of Lily Cole

Tom Seymour

Among the films released this week is The Moth Diaries, a highly stylised mod-Gothic Irish-Canadian horror based on Rachel Klein’s 2002 novel and helmed by Mary Harron, a director high on indie-capital after I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) and American Psycho (2000). Yet the film is most notable for the leading presence of Lily Luahana Cole, the Torquay-born 25-year-old whom fashion embraced as the porcelain-pure antidote to heroin chic and has now taken a significant step in a still infant filmic career; this is the first time she has taken the lead credit in a mainstream, studio-backed, genre-based movie.

Yet the film’s release is unusual; indeed, it’s almost invisible. Lionsgate, responsible for distributing the film in the UK and America, have decided – without explanation   against showing the film to anyone in the press, denying audiences an objective take on the film despite its presence in most multiplexes across Britain from Friday.

Based on the novel’s plotline and the film’s trailer (above), Cole plays Ernessa, a strange, pallid girl whom ingratiates herself into a friendship group in the anxiety-fueled climes of an elite girl’s boarding school. Almost immediately, strange accidents domino into each other. A teacher is murdered, girls disappear, others begin to obsess over Ernessa; wondering, secretly, whether she might be a vampire.

Cole’s vehicle has had a hard time State-side – it currently stands at 15 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet The New York Times – the doyen of film criticism – lauded the film, saying: “Roiling with jealousy, suicide and latent lesbian urges, The Moth Diaries dances on the border between hallucination and reality without fully committing to either...if the film has narrative frailties, [they] are offset by impeccable performances.”

It is with regret the critical corps weren’t able to witness a key moment for one of British cinema’s most promising exports. Since her emergence as Valentina in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Cole has carefully navigated her course in the industry, fusing supporting roles in high-budget behemoths with independent, often left-field projects. Here we chart the evolution of Lily Cole the film star:

Rage (Sally Potter, 2009) 

Directed by Sally Potter, who boasted the film would begin a new wave of “naked cinema,” this experimental, talking-head film debuted on mobile phones through the web-platform Babelgum in 2009. The film relies on the conceit of a young blogger conducting behind-the-scenes interviews on his cell-phone at a New York fashion shoot. Cole, who co-stars alongside Riz Ahmed, Judi Dench, Jude Law, Eddie Izzard and Steve Buscemi, was forced to venture way beyond her comfort zone in her portrayal of Lettuce Leaf, a saucer-eyed, stunningly-featured haute couture supermodel. A careful and modest introduction to moviemaking – a shop window, maybe, for bigger game.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Terry Gilliam, 2009)

Lily’s profile-role to date. She plays the daughter of Christopher Plummer’s good doctor, owner of a mobile theatre wheeled through modern London and bringing the past, with all its antiquated sense of wonder, bursting into the present. The film, as is Terry Gilliam’s bent, is full of hocus (Tom Waits plays the Devil) and even more hokum; C.G.I was not meant for such a liberal man. It received more credit than it was due as Heath Ledger, emerging as the Brando of his generation, died of an overdose during the shoot. Yet it was a perfect role for Lily, who plays her character as a duality; both fey and mischievous, intimate and loaded. Anthony Lane, writing in The New Yorker, noted: “Her unearthly heart of a face is like a special effect.”

Snow White and the Huntsman (Rupert Sanders, 2012) 

Lily was granted only two significant scenes in this bedtime story remodeled for sex-laden minds, yet they were integral; she plays a beautiful peasant girl, her youth prey for Charlize Theron’s sorceress queen Ravenna. In the brief alliance she forges with Kristen Stewart’s Snow White – locked together in the north tower of the castle – before her life is sucked from her by a remorseless witch, Cole’s helpless, repressed performance kickstarts the film’s emotional potency; she creates the foil for Snow White’s crusade against the witch’s reign of mortal terror.

Confession of a Child of the Century (Sylvie Verheyde, 2012)  

Hey Lily, want to star in a film about Peter Doherty’s love-affair with the Parisian chatterati so pretentious it would make Laurence Llewelyn Bowen vomit through his nose? OK! ...Cole went for it; not even deterred, apparently, by a top hat-wearing Doherty proclaiming: “I am the greatest libertine in all of Paris!” British critics sharpened their pencils for this so-called resurrection of the tabloid-fixation, yet the film was worshiped by our loftier French colleagues. It may, then, have been a deceptively smart casting call for Lily, who plays Doherty’s girlfriend Elise, jettisoned after she plays footsie with another man. Here was a chance to do period-setting melodrama – the stuff of BBC2 on a Saturday night – yet in an uber-chic, arthouse setting. Cole, it seems, knows the game, or at least better than Pete Do.

'The Moth Diaries' is out today.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @TomSeymour 

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