Antonia Campbell-Hughes Talks Collaborative Spirit of ‘Cordelia’


If you love psychological thrillers, Cordelia might be up your alley. Antonia Campbell-Hughes, who co-wrote the film and plays the titular character, talked to Deepest Dream about collaborating with director Adrian Shergold in helping craft this mind bending narrative.

Cordelia (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) is a young woman living in a London, and her isolated existence is transformed by her mysterious neighbor Frank (Johnny Flynn). Left alone for the weekend by her twin sister, Cordelia gets closer to Frank, and it’s a union which leads to the resurfacing of a traumatic event.

Running at 92 minutes, Cordelia is a thriller that does not give clear cut answers, and I appreciated the story’s dedication to ambiguity. Campbell-Hughes also talks about her previous work with Jane Campion (in Bright Star) and mentions her upcoming directing debut It Is All In Us.

Johnny Flynn and Antonia Campbell-Hughes in “Cordelia” (Screen Media Films)

This was a very cerebral psychological thriller which I appreciated. Can you talk about that element to Cordelia?

What I thought that was interesting about this were the parallels with the apartment set ups. People living on top of each other. To me, it seemed very mathematical like the partitions of the brain. 

What I really thought was interesting is Cordelia and Johnny Flynn’s character – they’re kind of two parts of a whole. The slow unraveling is quite nice. I didn’t want it to be the classic stereotype of a woman losing her mind or a psychological unraveling. But rather a proper performance – it’s a choice to exist in the world which starts to come off.

She’s figured out a way to get buy in society that is a struggle for her by wearing this way of characterization which is to be quite meek and mild mannered and mouse like. As she becomes more stressed, her true self erupts. 

Antonia Campbell-Hughes in Cordelia (Screen Media Films)

Until the final minute, I had no idea where this movie was going and I was trying to distinguish which events were real or some memory in Cordelia’s mind. Also, the apartment added an extra layer of unpredictability to the narrative. 

Exactly. What works really well is the visual of the apartment. What we spoke about initially was it was almost like an alive place. It is almost like the entrails or the insides of a whale. The walls look wet. They actually look like an alive entity. That is quite terrifying in itself. 

I’ve always been interested in what happens to the human mind when you compromise what it need to be healthy. Isolation is a key factor to that. Because they are both so fragile in a sense and they’re both holding in so much menace that it is the counterplay between each one and how they work as a duo which is really interesting. Vulnerability and menace combined and switching positions. 

Do you find writing to be a solitary or maybe even a freeing experience?

Everything I write is a slightly different experience. My film is completely my own universe. It’s my film. It’s entirely my vision and my world whereas Cordelia was a collaboration. And it really it is Adrian’s story entirely.

He wrote it in 2007 for Sally Hawkins. They developed it for a while and then a huge amount of time passed and I worked with Adrian Shergold. I was on a show he was directing and because it had been sitting on the shelf somewhere, he saw some similarities between myself and Sally who I knew also.

And so he brought it to me and my collaborative aspect with Adrian on that film was . . . he’s so generous and he said, “If you’re going to play this role, it’s important to  have a bit of your voice infused throughout it.

I was honoring his world and his vision.

When I wrote my own film, it was exactly as you say. I went away for three weeks into a room. There is a big process – I was awarded a development fund. It’s like a filmmaker’s fund and that was a very big vetting process in the UK with government funds. That’s a huge discipline you have to go through.

Check out our Find Your Film podcast review of Cordelia:

Can you talk about learning your directing journey? I am assuming a big par of it was learning the process while on the job.

It’s funny. My whole evolution has been unusual. I grew up in Switzerland and Germany and places where to conceive of even . .  . I didn’t even know these jobs existed to be honest.

I never saw an English language film. I didn’t watch television. And then I went to art school and I went to Parsons in New York . . . I guess the work I did was somewhat now I understand what a filmmaker is. 

I ended up acting kind of by a fluke. I was street cast in something and I was very lucky to be on the set of some really quite brilliant filmmakers who are all inclusive. I found every process with every films that I was in a learning process.

I started out in TV and that’s very collaborative. It was like British comedy so they encouraged me to write. I was working with Jennifer Saunders and people who I could really learn from.

The first film I was on was Bright Star with Jane Campion who has been very important in my life. And then I worked with quite a lot of brilliant women and I was lucky to be in films that had those collaborative sensibilities.

Antonia Campbell-Hughes in “Cordelia” (Screen Media Films)

I love how the ending of Cordelia was very open ended and ambiguous. 

That is where I learnt my place. Because I did a pass on the script and then the end was a pass from my perspective but ultimately this is a combination of Adrian’s experiences and his imagination. So very much it was his world and then I became his actor. 

He holds secrets. I did keep saying to him, “So what happened?” I was in the same position as the audience, per se. He would not tell me, very simply. I had to play it like I was Cordelia. Just play the truth of it without knowing. That is basically what I did. I performed as an individual who is lost in a control – I hate to use the words “psychotic break” – but what she has done is she has lost has control.

Cordelia is a woman who has existed by controlling her environment and in this period of time which is three days of a weekend, she has lost control and therefore perspective because somebody else has imposed on her life.

And everything goes inside out and upside down and that is what the components of psychological horror through the ages like the classic films of Repulsion and everything like that – and The Shining (as well). So that’s how I played it. 

Do you have a theory on why Jane Campion is such a high level filmmaker?

I don’t know. She just is though. She never strays from what’s in her gut. There is always an absolute fierce authenticity and a keen eye and awareness on humanity. I’ve only worked with her once – I’ve known her a very long time. 

And there’s a real deep excavation for the truth in everything. From the production design to the material used in costuming. Everything is very authentically true. I think that is what carries into each study and story.

Her work is quite diverse. Always has been. 

When can we see It Is In Us All? I’m excited to see it.

Well thanks. I don’t have the exact dates. There isn’t an American release . . . it will probably be late fall or early 2023. 

I really loved Cordelia. Thank you for your time Antonia!

Thank you. Very nice to meet you.

Cordelia is now playing in theaters and is available On Demand. You can also purchase the movie on the Amazon link below and support our endeavors!

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