Both leads in Beautiful Creatures are relative newcomers, but actress Alice Englert is more of an out-of-nowhere choice for such an anticipated adaptation. She’s been garnering raves for her performances in festival favorites like Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa and the recent Sundance debut In Fear, but otherwise this Thursday will really mark her introduction to general moviegoers. And I’ll admit, she’s excellent in Beautiful Creatures, standing out as a dramatic centerpiece amidst the enjoyable over-the-top stints by Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson and Emmy Rossum. Between that, the other two features I mentioned and Roland Joffe’s upcoming Singularity, the 18-year-old could very well be the next big thing, and perhaps the best of such since Jessica Chastain.
So, where did she come from? Very literally she came from Jane Campion, the Oscar-nominated director of The Piano. She even had her first real starring role in one of her mother’s films, the short The Water Diary, which is part of the feature-length omnibus 8. While IMDb credits this as Englert’s first work, she actually made her debut in an earlier short from 2001, Paul Maling’s Listen. You can watch that in full over at Alice-Englert.org. After The Water Diary, she appeared in one more short before the hiatus that led up to this year’s heavy output. That one, Hannah Cowley’s Flame of the West, does not appear to be available online anywhere, but you can check out a trailer that barely features the actress here.
You can see The Water Diary online in its entirety, which is 18 minutes of beauty. The landscape-heavy film was shot by cinematographer Greig Fraser, who really should have been nominated for an Academy Award this year, for any of his 2012 works, which include Zero Dark Thirty, Killing Them Softly and Snow White and the Huntsman. Englert leads as a young girl narrating a drought affecting her family and home, and on the surface it’s a rather familiar tale of innocent perspective on a grown-up issue. There’s mention of global warming, and we feel the pain of a child whose environment has been ruined by her elders. And a climactic discovery is metaphorical of that child’s realization that her parents have done something incomprehensibly awful.
Campion was in fact inspired to make this film by Englert and some friends’ children. The filmmaker told the Sydney Morning Heraldin 2005, “One day I heard them talking about the world they would inherit and how our generation had used up so much of the resources [so] that they will inherit a depleted and plundered Earth where they might not live very long.” The feature The Water Diary appears in, 8, is actually focused on the United Nations’s Millennium Development Goals, which address global issues like environmental sustainability, poverty and AIDS in Africa.
Only 11 years old when The Water Diary was made, Englert already shows a natural born talent for acting that is now being seen in full capacity with her multiple feature film roles. Most actresses her age don’t arrive so suddenly in all lead parts without having done at least some supporting work here or TV stuff there. And while having filmmakers as parents might be a stepping stone, it’s definitely not all thanks to Campion being her mother that Englert’s career is immediately one to watch.
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