Anna Kendrick has a new film out called Alice, Darling. It looks like it’s a great film but also like it will be incredibly difficult to watch. Anna plays Alice, who is in a psychologically abusive relationship with Simon. Her friends suspect/know something is wrong, but they can’t get through to Alice. Watching the trailer made my stomach turn. If the trailer is triggering, I can only imagine what the film is like. You can see the trailer here. Unfortunately, the reason Anna is so convincing in her role as Alice is because she was drawing on personal experience. Anna received the script soon after getting out of an emotionally abusive relationship. The movie was so similar to what she had gone through, that Anna said if it wasn’t being filmed several months from when she read it, she risked being retraumatized. But she had the space and supportive cast and director, which kept her safe. So they were able to tell the story in a way that may help others.
Anna Kendrick’s latest film, “Alice, Darling,” didn’t need an emotional abuse consultant. Its emotional abuse consultant was Anna Kendrick.
Lead actor and executive producer Kendrick had recently come out of an emotionally abusive relationship of her own when she was sent the screenplay, written by Alanna Francis, which details the experience of a woman struggling, while on vacation with two close friends, to come to terms with the fact that she’s been psychologically abused by her boyfriend.
“I really related to Alice’s obsessive mind,” Kendrick told The Times. The script had a line in which Alice wishes she could purify her thoughts, and although Kendrick didn’t have that same thought, she remembers writing in her journal, “I’m just going to try a little harder. If I could just get it right, if I could make it perfect, if I could just say it in the perfect way, I’ll be OK.”
“It’s this totally irrational hope that if I’m just a little bit better, I’ll be safe. It’s like having a pair of pliers on your heart,” she said.
“Alice, Darling,” opening in Los Angeles Friday, was filmed in June and July of 2021, only six months after Kendrick received the script. But with the help of her therapist, a protective cast and crew, and director Mary Nighy’s offer to provide help if things got too intense, Kendrick felt safe. She explained that this was crucial, because when part of your original trauma is being invalidated, you want to surround yourself with people who understand.
She said she told Nighy that she’d rather have 1 in 10 people watch the movie and think, “Simon was a jerk, but don’t be so dramatic,” rather than have a moment where he shoves Alice into a wall so everybody gets on the same page that he’s an abusive bad guy. “That was a big part of my problem. ‘Well he never hit me and I’m not really afraid that he’s going to hit me. How do I discern between normal conflict and abuse? Why is my body in so much fear all of the time? Why do I wake up feeling like he’s in bed next to me and wondering, ‘OK, do I have 30 seconds before I start performing or … ?’”
Kendrick discussed how living in an abusive relationship creates so much self-doubt that people question their own reality. She describes it as, “He’s so convinced that I am a monster that I can’t see how I am not.”
During the final stages of editing, Kendrick urged Nighy to “pull back” even further, recounting an early conversation with co-star Wunmi Mosaku about why they liked Francis’ script. “I said that I love that it really relied on Alice’s experience rather than cataloging evidence of the behavior from Simon,” Kendrick recalled. “Wunmi said, ‘But Anna, you’re the evidence.’”
At this point in our phone interview, Kendrick cuts herself off and starts apologizing. It takes a beat to realize she’s crying.
“I was begging Mary, ‘Can Alice be the evidence?’” Kendrick said. “Because not only do I want us to not make a movie that’s already been made, but personally, I need to trust that I’m the evidence. Part of it was like, if you can’t trust Alice, then I can’t trust myself. So it was really, really important that the movie relied so heavily on just staying with Alice.”
She also resisted any implication that physical abuse was only a matter of time: “You don’t have to believe that it might get physical for you to feel like you’re allowed to leave, that you deserve to be treated better, deserve to feel safe.”
“I need to trust that I’m the evidence… if you can’t trust Alice, then I can’t trust myself,” reading that caught in my throat. Anna detailed the ways that director Mary Nighy and her castmates supported her, and how her therapist helped her get through the filming but my gawd, this must have been so difficult. Kaniehtiio Horn, who plays one of the two friends trying to rescue Alice, admitted she has also been in many emotional and other abusive relationships. And reading above how Wunmi Mosaku understood Anna’s experience, it sounds like it was a very safe place for Anna to tell this story.
I think it’s important too, because as the excerpt emphasizes, they made a concerted effort for there not to be any evidence of physical abuse. They took out a scene where Alice removes her shirt and has bruises on her. Mary and Anna both said they realized there will be those who don’t “see” the abuse because we’ve been conditioned to accept physical abuse as wrong but we aren’t taught the other kinds of abuse. So they really wanted to show what non-physical abuse can look like, which goes back to Anna asking for Alice to be the evidence instead of having her thrown into a wall. Mary said a clinical psychologist came up to her at the Toronto Film Festival and said she believes they may save lives with the film as a result. I feel horrible for Anna knowing this film cut so close to the bone. But I admire the fact that she was willing to put it up on screen to help someone who hasn’t gotten out of a bad relationship yet.
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