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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

A Love Letter To Eva Green

A study of the strong female characters played by the noted French actress

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Murtaza Ali Khan
Murtaza Ali Khan
Murtaza Ali Khan is an independent film critic / journalist based out of New Delhi, India. He has been writing on cinema for over 10 years.

I first fell in love with Eva Green as a teenager when I decided to go and watch Casino Royale (2006) in the middle of my end semester examinations during the second year of engineering. Who will not fall in love with Vesper Lynd? The vulnerability she shows in that shower scene makes it truly unforgettable. And in the final scene when she drowns to death, it felt at the moment as if a part of me too died with her. I have never related to Bond more than I did at that very moment when Vesper slips away from his arms forever. It is Eva Green’s sheer brilliance that makes Vesper Lynd so real. A lethal combination of beauty and brains, Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd is really the thinking man’s muse. As a teenager watching Casino Royale, Vesper Lynd meant so many things to me. But above all she has been a manifestation of the free spirit that has always inspired me to follow my heart despite the odds. It is worth mentioning here that in the same decade, Eva Green also delivered memorable performances in films such as The Dreamers (2003), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and The Golden Compass (2007).

Eva Green as Vanessa Ives in the Showtime series Penny Dreadful (2014)

In the Showtime gothic romance series Penny Dreadful (2014), she essays the central character of Vanessa Ives. It’s set in the Victorian Era London that’s rife with all kinds of literary characters ranging from Dracula to Dr. Frankenstein to Dorian Gray to Abraham Van Helsing to Henry Jekyll. The moments of supernatural horror in these episodes are simply next level. Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives owns these moments. Even when Vanessa is indulging in the most grotesque of acts one can’t really take one’s eyes off her. That’s how good she is.

Consider the ‘Séance’ scene from the second episode of Season 1. The scene takes place during the second episode of the first season of Penny Dreadful. The setting is a high profile party, hosted by a historian named Ferdinand Lyle, featuring a known spiritualist named Madame Kali who is famous for performing séances. As she makes the guests sit on a round table and starts to contact a spirit named Amunet she suddenly realizes that she is not really in control owing to the presence of someone else at the table. She is revealed to none other than Vanessa who ends up summoning the spirits to talk to the crowd, serving as a medium, instead of Madame Kali.

Eva Green Seance Scene
A still from the ‘Seance’ scene in the first season of Penny Dreadful

What ensues is inarguably one of the greatest scenes ever filmed as far as the long form narrative is concerned. The scene, of course, is owned by Eva Green. She shakes and trembles, writhes and convulses, and hisses and puffs emanating fear and panic, ensnaring everyone with a serpentine gaze inspiring awe and terror just like Lord Shiva’s dance of death. This is really the finest moment of Eva Green’s acting career thus far. And I have no hesitation in saying that Vanessa Ives is certainly one of the most enigmatic characters in all of fiction. The scene also features the legendary James Bond actor Timothy Dalton who plays the series’ protagonist Sir Malcolm Murray. While it is Green’s breathtaking performance that makes the scene truly unforgettable it is impossible to imagine the scene without Dalton. His expressions in the scene and in particular how he responds to the possessed Vanessa’s accusations without uttering a single word elevates it to another level altogether.

The full scene can be watched here:

Here it is also important to mention what Eva Green achieves in 300: Rise of an Empire (2014). I don’t think that any other actor can look so delicate and ferocious at the same time. As Artemisia, Eva Green is the personification of death. And yet can anyone really resist falling in love with her? There is a certain outworldly energy that Eva seems to possess as Artemisia. Had this been in a non-fantasy film an Academy Award would surely have been hers. Try watching Eva Green in any of her interviews and you will notice that she is very soft spoken, introverted and a little shy. And then you think of Artemisia and you realize her acting calibre. And what’s more commendable is her command over the English language. She can switch her accents at the drop of a hat. Mind it, she is French and so English is not her first language. But, she really seems to have worked hard on it. The fact that she attended the American University of Paris, an English-speaking institution, must have also helped. No wonder she plays English and American parts all the time and so effortlessly.

Eva Green as Artemisia and Sullivan Stapleton as Themistokles in a still from 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

Coming back to Artemisia, it is amazing that even with her dainty frame she is effortlessly able to convey an enormous level of inhibited ferocity while commanding a huge fleet of tough-looking Persian men. She is exceptionally nimble with a sword in her hand. And when she smiles beckoning you into her web of deceit you just can’t resist the spider’s touch despite knowing fully well that it’s death you are approaching. Despite her ferality and unimaginable cruelty, Artemisia is ultimately a tragic character who was raped and ravaged as a child and so it’s hard to hate her even when we see her partake in unfathomable savegery. It’s a testament to Eva Green’s virtuoso acting skills, her nymphian beauty, and her unparalleled charm and elegance that even in a average film like 300: Rise of an Empire, Artemisia still remains such an iconic character.

Some other highly recommended films starring Eva Green are Womb (2010), Perfect Sense (2011), Dark Shadows (2012), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014), Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016), Euphoria (2017), Dumbo (2019), and Proxima (2019)

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