Ellie Bamber gave an interview to the website (whimn.com.au) to talk about Les Misérables that debuts this month in Australia.
The screenwriter Andrew Davies is known for adding much-needed doses of raunch to all your beloved period dramas.
It was Davies after all, blessed man, who told Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy to dive into that pond at Pemberley, white shirt and everything, and it is Davies who has put a little frisson of sex into his latest project: a six-part dramatic adaptation (meaning, no singing) of Les Misérables airing on BBC First this month.
In the first episode alone Dominic West, whose Jean Valjean is miserly and crooked until he meets Fantine (Lily Collins), exposes his bare bottom in front of Javert (David Oyelowo). And then later in the series, Marius (Josh O’Connor, soon to be seen as the Young Prince Charles in season three of The Crown), besotted at the sight of the ethereal Cosette (Ellie Bamber), falls to his knees and kisses her feet as a sign of his undying devotion.
This, it turns out, was the scene given during the Les Misérables audition process to 21-year-old Bamber, the Chanel muse and ingenue plucked from school to star in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals as the daughter of Isla Fisher and Jake Gyllenhaal. (“Australia’s most gorgeous, funny woman,” Bamber enthuses. “I love Isla so much.”)
A roster of Mariuses were given the stage directions to kiss Bamber’s feet in the audition room, but only O’Connor was game enough to follow through. “He fucking went for it,” Bamber says, a huge grin on her face. “It was really amazing, and I thought, “Okay, this seems legit, let’s keep going,” she recalls. It was a sign of connection and intimacy between the two young actors that would only grow as the production went on. Besides, Bamber adds, “It was only the bridge of my foot, so it was okay.”
The two have an instant, zingy chemistry that translates offscreen. At the press launch for the series in London, Bamber spies O’Connor in a dapper-looking suit over my shoulder and flips him the bird. “You’re suited!” she laughs incredulously, before rolling her eyes at me. “That’s our Josh.”
That there should be more than just a hint of sex in Les Misérables will come as no surprise to those who know the original novel well. Written by Victor Hugo, a man so beloved by the local Parisian prostitutes that when he died the brothels shut their doors for a day in mourning, the story is essentially one of the first fuckboy in literary history. Fantine is spectacularly led astray by Felix, a man who has no intention of doing anything right by her, and by the end of the first episode she is left to fend for herself and her infant daughter Cosette all on her own. (To Felix, Cosette’s ne’er-do-well father, we would like to say thank u, next.)
But the beating heart of Les Misérables’ romance are Marius and Cosette, whose wholesome, swoony love story runs as a counterpoint to the roster of men who took advantage of Fantine right up until her death.
There’s been a lot of sex onscreen this past year, especially in Bamber’s ex-boyfriend Richard Madden’s television show Bodyguard. (The pair split in January.) No doubt there’ll be more in Bamber’s next project, The Trial of Christine Keeler, a BBC dramatisation of the scandalous Profumo affair, as seen on season two of The Crown. (Bamber plays model Mandy-Rice Davies in the series, which also stars James Norton and Sophie Cookson.) In Les Misérables, however, the sex is every day implied but never declared.
“There’s something to be said for some sex [on television],” Bamber says, “but this isn’t graphic.” So there’s no ripping of corsets? “No!” she says, emphatically, laughing. “Cosette has been sheltered in a convent her whole life, she doesn’t know what love is. So when when she meets Marius she can’t identify these feelings… I think her love is so pure because she feels it so greatly.”
But it is also a love story about the relationship between a father and daughter as Cosette teaches Valjean how to open his heart up to the world again. “It’s so nice that there is such romance at the heart of it,” Bamber says. “I’ve always seen Cosette as a representation of hope and love.”
On the set of the miniseries in Belgium Bamber spent most of her time with West listening to trap music. “I love telling this story because it was such a shock for me as well,” she grins at me. “One morning I said ‘Dominic I hope you don’t mind if I play some trap music,’ and he said ‘No, I love trap music’ and next minute we’re both dancing around the truck. We had a real laugh.”
According to Bamber, it’s that ebullient energy that makes Les Misérables metaphorically sing. “If you think about all of the bad things that are happening in this world,” Bamber says, it’s no wonder that the time is ripe for an epic period drama. “[The BBC] are so good at it because they bring magical stories to life. It’s escapism.”
Les Misérables is on BBC First and is available to stream on-demand from Foxtel.
Ellie Bamber is dressed in a pink Emilia Wickstead dress with splashes of bright-blue paint in her blonde hair, newly dyed for GLAMOUR’s art-tastic shoot. “This is totally my Mad Hatter’s tea party moment,” laughs Ellie. “I love experimenting with make-up colours, using them in unique ways and doing wild things, because on a day-to-day basis, I sometimes feel mad -but in a good way.”
Ellie’s energy, as well as her talent for breaking your emotion with a single glance, is quickly making her one of Britain’s most in-demand actresses. Having been plucked from her school aged 11 to star in Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Aspects Of Love, she landed her first TV role in the ITV drama A Mother’s Son in 2012 and went on to tread the West End boards in The Lady From The Sea. But she is arguably best known for her 2016 role in Tom Ford’s intense-as-hell Nocturnal Animals, where she played Jake Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher’s ill-fated daughter. Oh, and she got to live the Shawn Mendes girlfriend fantasy, when he chased her all over Paris for his music video, Theres Nothing Holdin’ Me Back. Not afraid to take on dark roles, Ellie will hit the big screen this year in The Seven Sorrows Of Mary, the true story of an American exchange student who, after being kidnapped in Brazil, alongside her boyfriend (played by James Frecheville)
endured a brutal gang rape in a tiny van. Ellie confesses that taking on the role was deeply troubling, “I was sent a link after filming to watch it, and I still can’t revisit it, yet.”
After months spent filming horrific rape scenes in the confined space, she says, “I asked if I could torch the van at the end. The emotions were so intense on set and in my head – most people only spoke Portuguese, so l couldn’t speak their language and felt even more apart from everything that was happening around me. I did feel quite lonely at times.” How did she escape putting her body and mind through such a harrowing experience? “I watched Keeping Up With The Kardashians at the weekends; I feel like that was a nice release.”
Away from the cameras, Ellie has always defiantly forged her own path, admitting she’s as happy “riding my skateboard wearing Chanel” as she is, placard in hand, marching through Trafalgar Square on a protest. It’s this empowered attitude that helped her land the career-defining role of Cosette in BBCs recent Les Misérables series. Described in the original 1862 book as, ‘a barefooted adventuress with gypsy blood in her veins’, Cosette is an apt reflection of Ellie’s bohemian 2.0 personality
So, does she see any of herself in these strong, spirited characters who’ve faced hardship, especially as a woman in this post – #MeToo world ? “I ‘m not afraid ou to be me and push my opinions. At school, it always felt like girls were pitted against each other-that’s so awful and sad and something that I never do. It’s about accepting everyone and their choices.”
Part of Ellie’s endearing charm is she’s as self-assured and down-to-earth in her moral code as she is with her beauty routine, admitting in the past that she still goes to her gran’s a former hairdresser- in Essex, to have her roots done. But despite being a new-gen Ginger Spice thanks to her days – and roles as a redhead, Ellie is in fact “naturally this blonde. I had my hair dyed red for Pride And Prejudice And Zombies in 2015, and I’ve only just gone back to my natural colour,” she confesses, swishing her hair. But as a young feminist, how does she feel about the question that will not die: can you be a feminist and be into beauty? “Women should be able to do what the hell they like – unless it’s against the law!” she replies, puffing out her cheeks.
“Beauty is important to me, but I don’t think it defines me”. She has the same no-BS approach to handling life in spotlight, even more so since attention started swirling round her relationship and break-up with Bodyguard’s Richard Madden last year. Her secret? Stay grounded. “It gets dangerous if you change the way you act, if you stop being yourself,” she confides. “I would never stop being me. Everyone has a subjective opinion and I think it’s better not to worry about what other people think”. It’s why you can forget getting into dating chat – AKA the bane of many twentysomethings lives – with Ellie. “I’m so focused on my career,” she says.“I am my own independent woman, so why does it matter who I date?” Destiny’s Child would, no doubt, approve.
The Seven Sorrows Of Mary will be released later in 2019
Ellie Bamber has a confession to make: she judges books by their covers. “Sometimes – and I know people say this is awful – I do just go into a bookshop and think, ‘Oh, that cover looks nice’,” the actor laughs.
But that doesn’t mean the content of the book need be equally palatable. Her current read, My Year Of Rest And Relaxation, which she brings to breakfast with Stylist, has a quaint, period cover. But Ottessa Moshfegh’s second novel “is about this woman who gets loads of sleeping pills and decides to hibernate for a year because she thinks it might help her,” explains 21-year-old Bamber in a Bloomsbury cafe near her central London flat. “It’s intriguing. The author has a dark voice.”
Another less-than-light read is the reason we’re meeting. Bamber recently devoured Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables in anticipation of her role as Cosette in a new dramatisation of the French historical novel. The six-part BBC drama dispenses with songs to stay closer to Hugo’s doorstop of a book. The period piece also draws parallels with contemporary global unrest.
It’s lavish, but it is gruelling. Fans of the novel, the blockbuster musical or this new adaptation on BBC One will know that Bamber’s turn as Cosette comes after several episodes of untold misery. She gets all the nice costumes but she doesn’t escape scot-free. “You see that Cosette is given away by her mother to this extremely abusive family and, as Victor Hugo says, she’s treated like the household drudge by the parents and children.”
We meet the week before Christmas and Bamber is working right up to the break. This is what it’s like when you’re an actor of the moment. She’s just back from shooting a film, The Seven Sorrows Of Mary, in Rio. Currently, she’s juggling work on another British film, The Show (“a comedy shot through an LSD lens”, she laughs) and a second BBC drama. It doesn’t leave much time for rest and relaxation.
“I was filming two different things all last week,” she says. “So I had a fairly chilled out weekend just hanging out and reading this book.”
Bamber has been in demand ever since she started acting at school, where she won drama scholarships. Brought up in Berkshire and with the support of her parents – her mum is her manager – she was on the West End stage with a part in a prestigious Sir Trevor Nunn play, Aspects Of Love, by the age of 13.
Television, theatre and film work followed but it was playing the daughter of Jake Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher’s characters in Nocturnal Animals that gave her a Hollywood break. Chanel appointed her as an ambassador in 2016. But while Bamber is major red carpet material, she’s much more than outward appearances.
She’s drawn to all sorts of stories, but she excels in dramas that blend her obvious glamour with substantial amounts of grit. It started with Nocturnal Animals. The work of a celebrated designer, Tom Ford’s film looked suitably stylish. But its substance dealt in the knottier, often violent aspects of the human condition. Bamber’s character, in particular, had a grim time of it.
Her new work, discussed over scrambled eggs and Americanos, also sits on the grittier end of the spectrum. The Seven Sorrows Of Mary is a terrifying-sounding thriller about a tourist couple who are kidnapped and tortured by a gang in Rio de Janeiro. The other BBC drama in the works is The Trial of Christine Keeler, a take on the political sex scandal that rocked the British establishment in the Sixties, written and directed by women.
Bamber plays Christine Keeler’s friend and fellow showgirl Mandy Rice-Davies, who challenged the characterisation of herself as a fallen woman. It’s a meaty role that should seal 2019 as Bamber’s year. She shows Stylist a snap on her phone of herself in character, complete with Sixties’ bob and red lipstick.
But while the actor enjoyed the glitzier side to Rice-Davies, she was drawn to the substance of her story. She read her memoir (Bamber really does her homework) in which the former showgirl proves herself to be more than what the headlines of the time portrayed.
“Mandy was so fun and vivacious, she didn’t hold back,” says Bamber, a woman who clearly likes to look beyond appearances. “But the way these girls got labelled by men at the time… it was a lot.”(more…)
2019 is set to be a golden year for TV and the show’s respective leads. From Jodie Comer’s return as Villanelle in Killing Eve season two, to Ellie Bamber’s new role as Cosette in Les Misérables, these are the fourteen faces set to dominate your screen next year. All you have to do is cancel all social plans in favour of a boxset binge.
#3 Ellie Bamber: Les Misérables
Ellie Bamber has been acting since she was young, but her new role as Cosette in BBC 1’s six-part adaptation of Les Misérables is set to make the 21-year-old actress a household name. You heard it here first.
Ellie Bamber plays Cosette
Tell us about Cosette
For me, Cosette is a representation of hope and the future for the story. Her journey is the story of her becoming a woman, but one from a really tough past. Previously I feel audiences have had a different idea of Cosette – she’s often seen as a passive character within the plot, but Andrew Davies’ script delves into her past so you can see why she is nervous at the beginning of her teenage life. She does have a huge capacity to love and that begins to show.
I haven’t played a character recently from this time period so wearing these amazing costumes is incredible, as are the sets.
Tell us about Les Misérables as an adaptation
I loved Andrew’s scripts, they are so eloquently written. An audience who hasn’t read the book but might have seen the play or seen the movie adaptation will see new details that they wouldn’t have seen or known before, especially about the characters’ pasts and where they are going.
Tell us about the relationship between Cosette and Jean Valjean
The relationship between Cosette and Jean Valjean is wonderful, as they depend on each other. She teaches him how to love and that’s beautiful. The interesting thing about the journey they go on together is Cosette becoming a woman: it’s a father holding onto his daughter, but also letting her go.