After superb support performances in films such as Good Will Hunting, Minnie Driver reminds audiences that she is British by taking the lead in The Governess. By Anwar Brett
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Each new month heralds, it seems, another Minnie Driver movie. The actress who first came to prominence in the 1995 rites-of-passage tale Circle of Friends has worked with barely a break ever since, clocking up a respectable list of credits in a wide range of movies. Her latest, The Governess, is a thoughtful feminist drama, with just a dash of the old-fashioned bodice-ripper about it. It casts the English-born actress as a Jewish woman forced to work to support her family after the sudden death of her father. Posing as a Gentile nanny, she is given a position in a smart family home on a remote Scottish island.

It’s a finely detailed, absorbing period drama, but a gruelling task for Driver who is squarely shouldering the full weight of a film for the first time. “I’m so tired,” she sighs, during a break in filming at one of the film’s country house locations to the north of London. “I’d really forgotten what it’s like to be in every scene, I haven’t done that since Circle of Friends. Here I’m involved in every single moment, in every single scene, and there’s no respite. I remember yesterday I was doing a scene with Emma Bird, who plays my sister, and she had quite an emotional bit to do.

“I was just so incredibly pleased that somebody else had to do it, that it wasn’t me for a change. But it’s lovely working so consistently too, it’s a double-edged sword as always, incredibly tiring and demanding but fun as well. And at least the experience has completely lived up to my early expectations after reading the script.”

Written and directed by débutante Sandra Goldbacher, The Governess manages to combine all the expected ingredients of a period romantic drama – it has more than the odd echo of the recently released movie Firelight for example – as well as the exoticism of London’s Sephardic Jewish community of the time. “Although I’m not Jewish,” Driver adds, “that aspect of it was all very fascinating to me. I didn’t know very much about the history and culture beforehand but, you know, it’s wonderful to learn in this way. It’s also great to be working for a woman director, it’s creates a completely different dynamic on a film. It isn’t better or worse, just really good and different.

Good Will Hunting, for example, was an almost exclusively male environment, but I loved working on that too because it’s fun just being the female representative in that setting. You’ve got a lot of bases to cover and they allow you more freedom within a role you obviously understand. I don’t know whether it would be so easy for a man to make The Governess, there’s so much that Sandra understands intuitively, the fine tuning of points about why one behaves in a certain way in a given situation, that I as another woman have in common with her.”

Picture copyright: Alliance

‘I’m involved in every single moment, in every single scene – there’s no respite’
Read this full interview, plus Jim Carrey on The Truman Show and Michael Douglas on A Perfect Murder in the November 1998 issue of Film Review
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