Finding her voice

Caroline Goodall on bringing The Bay Of Silence to the screen

by Jennie Kermode

Claes Bang and Olga Kurylenko in The Bay Of Silence
Claes Bang and Olga Kurylenko in The Bay Of Silence

A mysterious disappearance. A terrible loss. A secret buried somewhere deep in the past. The Bay Of Silence offers plenty to intrigue fans of psychological thrillers. It stars Olga Kurylenko as troubled mother Rosalind and Claes Bang as her devoted husband, Will, and was adapted from Lisa St Aubin de Terán’s novel by actress Caroline Goodall, who gave me a call from Croatia, where she’s currently filming, to talk about the story and her admiration for director Paula van der Oest.

“When I was writing, I didn't have any director in mind, particularly,” she begins.” I was just keen to write the story, and see if I can get to the end. And it made sense. But Paula came on board in April 2018, just as we were starting to find finance. I had met her a year before in Los Angeles, actually, through my casting director, Sharon Howard-Field, who's worked with her. She said ‘Oh, you must meet Paula, I love her.’ And we met, we had a couple of really great dinners. It was the first time that any of my investors and agents, actively, really thought about a woman director. Prior to that they'd always been on a list.

The Bay Of Silence
The Bay Of Silence

“I had a number of directors I wanted them to look at, but they basically ended up saying ‘No, no value, no value.’ And it was amazing how fast that changed. I was thrilled. It speaks to the man's points of view but it was written by a woman and the book is written by a woman, I really felt that a woman's sensibility would bring so much more.

“Obviously it was my job to hand the screenplay over to her, and also to the actors. It's been a close collaboration. They say that you write the screenplay and that's the first time, and then it’s rewritten again, in production. And then of course, rewritten again in the edit. Which is so true.”

She’s had a long acting career. I ask if she’s written screenplays before.

“Oh, yeah. My father's a publisher, my mother's a journalist. There were always loads of books in the house and I was the greatest reader growing up. But listen, you know, I looked recently – out of the 84 projects I've done in film and television. I added them up and 6% are written by women. It's so hard to get a screenplay made. It's so hard to produce one even. But it was always a question of time.”

It was suggested that she write a horror movie, she explains, because it could be done on a small budget without the need for big name stars.

“I do love the psychological thriller. Don't Look Now and The Vanishing are the inspirations for this film. They deal with very similar themes as well, you know: the death of a child and a search by one man whose girlfriend disappeared mysteriously. There's so much that you can do in psychological thrillers that deal with the deep, dark places of the psyche that we go to. I mean, if you think of Chinatown, it's about incest. But for some reason, we think it's about water.

Remembering things past
Remembering things past

“I really felt that that was the way in. And I also felt, having made a lot of films, having made some very, very big, expensive ones, that this was a terribly cheap one. But it doesn't matter, the budget of the film. It still is a leap of faith for absolutely everyone involved. And also, it is just so much hard work. I thought, I would much rather be able to, if I can, make a film that has enough money in the budget for my first film. It was still quite an undertaking. But my feeling was, just go for it.”

So why this particular story?

“I had liked the book for a very long time. And I found it really haunting, I'd read it in the Bay of Silence, I really respond to the characters in it, and that they're kind of cross border. That's been my experience as well. It's a British film, but they tend to be either period pieces films that about people's experience in deprived situations. Quite often they seem to be the ones that actually get the money, or they're very arty, they're very, very odd. And I knew that I wouldn't be able to finance this alone because I didn't take any boxes. I was a woman, I was over a certain age as an actress, it was my first feature as a writer. It was also my first feature as lead producer. It didn't matter that I’d been working for 30 years.

“I knew that I was going to finance it in a completely different way, so it was very important to have a film that on the face of it could be commercial. We needed to know that we could sell in the United States so that my investors would be able to feel that you know, there was some chance and getting their money back. It's a thriller and there are some dramatic incidents in it that are obviously going to make it sellable. There's also a lot that takes place inside the characters’ heads.”

A search for understanding
A search for understanding

This wasn’t a big challenge to depict, she says, because of the quality of the actors.

“Olga Kurylenko just breathed life into Rosalind and you just follow her. It’s a very carefully calibrated performance. But you know the secrets that she's keeping and the fact that she is an unreliable witness.”

I raise the theme of twins and doubles in the film and she reflects on how it’s addressed in the book and how it ties in to some of the themes around mental illness. “It's not a thriller. In that sense, it is a mystery. It's more contemplative. But there is so much in the movie to look at. Of course, she has twins already. There is the doubling of the two bays... with the Bay of Silence in Normandy, where by burying the truth, Will buries himself in a form of silence as well. And then, in a way, she [Rosalind] is two people, and then of course, you are looking at a lot of things through different mediums, whether it's the photographic art, or whether it's a mirror. You can actually see quite a lot of this doubling as a theme going all the way through.”

We discuss some of Rosalind’s backstory, the way that childbirth can affect people's mental health and the weight of responsibility for children. I suggest that some critics don’t seem to have understood these things very well.

“The film has polarised people,” she acknowledges. “Some of the responses we've had we, you know, from the Hollywood Reporter and Variety, were really great, especially about the actors. And they really seem to get it. Some people didn't and then other writers, maybe because they are women, they really, really got it. But, you know, the last thing you actually think about is what other people think when you're making it. You're just doing whatever you can in the moment to be able to finish the day and get that story onto film, and have the actor tell that story in the way that they feel they need to. But yes, I was, you know, postnatal depression is a very big thing in it and of course, Will completely misses the point about that.”

On the edge
On the edge

She’s currently isolating in Dubrovnik, she tells me, prior to doing pick-ups on a recent film.

“That's basically all we're doing at the moment is we're finishing off movies. It's very hard to start new ones because of the insurance problem. But most of these films that started before the pandemic started still have their insurance in place. And I just finished another film actually, called Birds Of Paradise, which has another wonderful female director and writer, Sarah Adina Smith. So another shout out. We finished in Hungary, and then I had five days in London, and I'm here for a week of isolation, being tested daily. And then I'll be going on set for another five or six days and finishing this film up, The Islander, which is kind of steampunk, post apocalyptic sci fi on the water. It’s really, really cool. And I play this cool kind of character called the Baroness, and she is the head of the Navy.”

Before we’re done, she stresses that she wants to thank the rest of the team who helped to bring The Bay Of Silence to life, especially because when watching films online it’s easy to miss the credits as streaming services often jump straight to the next film or episode.

“I just want to give a shout out to everyone from the producers and the investors to Paula and the DOP [Guido van Gennep], and of course my amazing actors, and there's twins [Litiana and Lilibet Biutanaseva] who are just wonderful. I have to say, you know, often kids are the ones you're always worrying about, thinking how slow will it be or whatever, but Paula had such a great rapport with them, they were just brilliant. And they would just be laughing and giggling one minute and then the next one standing there looking like little ghouls! They always knew their lines and delivered them so brilliantly, like something out of The Shining.

“Every movie is a challenge,” she says. “What can I say? But it was just amazing. There were so many wonderful days.”

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