Clémence Poésy is Isabelle
BBC One’s adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ modern classic
Interview with Clémence Poésy, who plays Isabelle
“You can’t make anything good with too much pressure,” suggests Clémence on taking on the role of Isabelle. “Everyone has their own idea of who these characters are and if you are worrying about what it should be, you’ll never make it what it could be.”
The French actress Clémence hadn’t read Birdsong before she met director Phillip Martin, but when she did she fell in love with the story of Stephen Wraysford and Isabelle Azaire.
“Birdsong isn’t as big in France as it is in England, but when I spoke to my English friends about the book I found that they were completely obsessed by it. I had no idea it was such a modern classic, so when I read it myself I thought, oh my god!”
“It’s a brilliant story about love, passion, life at its peak and then death. I think it explores such extremes and describes them beautifully and so truthfully. The characters are very modern and you don’t really realise that you’re in a period drama. That’s what we tried to get across when filming.”
Although Isabelle eventually leaves Stephen, when they meet there is an incredible connection between the two characters.
“I think the reason Isabelle is drawn to Stephen is because he listens to her, he treats her like his equal. There is a prominent sexual chemistry between them, which is hard to explain and although not all love stories are about passion, Stephen and Isabelle’s is. It’s about a strong sexual connection between two people.
“There is a great sense of freedom that this passion brings to her life. Like Stephen, it’s probably the first time Isabelle has had any connection with anyone, as her life with her husband is quite miserable. I think women have that thing at some point in their life that makes them feel like a woman and this is Isabelle’s moment for that.
“I have huge respect for Isabelle. I really loved how that passion makes her free. She’s not just someone’s wife or someone’s lover, she’s her own person and she leaves both her husband and her lover. When I saw how my girlfriends were talking about her I knew that I had to be true to that, because that is probably what touched them the most.”
A lot of First World War literature focuses on the huge change that society goes through as a result of the war. In Birdsong Stephen and Isabelle are not only changed by the war, but they are also transformed by meeting each other.
“The people we meet in life and the loves of our life are very, very important in terms of what or who we become. Change when it is right is probably for the best, but I think when Isabelle leaves Stephen she probably goes on to become more depressed than she was before she met him.
“I think Stephen is changed in a different way to Isabelle. He is a beautiful character because he is moved by love and by life and he is changed deeply by his experience in the trenches.
“There was one scene Eddie and I freaked out about for a long time, when Isabelle and Stephen see each other again after years apart and then they have one big goodbye scene together. I was very scared about trying to get it right. It was extremely weird for me when Eddie showed up on set as he brought the war with him. It was very impressive, because all the time I was looking at this person that I had been acting with for a few weeks and it wasn’t him anymore, it was someone else. He had become that soldier and it was as if he was bringing a third character into the room with him, and that character was the war.
“Anyone who has gone through that trauma lives with it, so although I think Stephen is changed by Isabelle, he is also made a completely different man by what he has seen. He has witnessed people dying and he has watched what men can do to each other. It is seeing how love can help and hatred can destroy.”
Stephen and Isabelle have an amazing chemistry and Eddie and Clémence bring this chemistry to life on screen.
“What was great about Eddie is that he didn’t avoid the subject of the love scenes – we always felt we could talk to each other about them. Being completely scared before a scene is good though. It means that it isn’t just a regular sex scene that you have in other films; I felt that we were more ourselves. Philip insisted on spending a proper amount of time on the scenes and he stopped directing us at points, which was terrifying, hopefully they are okay though.
“I suppose filming the scenes with Eddie made the job a bit easier, but it still wasn’t easy. Eddie makes everyone feel really special though. He’s lovely, gentle and genuinely interested in everyone. He’s great -he’s got everything that guy, it’s a bit annoying really.”