A Big Year of Movies: Felicity Jones and Claire Foy

2016. After being nominated for an Oscar, British actress Felicity Jones appears in three big budget big screen movies: A Monster Calls, Inferno, and Rogue One. Two of those films were a part of big franchises. The third film was directed by the future director of another big franchise.

2018. A contemporary of Jones, British actress Claire Foy stars in three films of her own: First Man, Unsane, and The Girl in the Spider’s Web. She had just become known for her success in a Netflix series.

This is the story of two years in the life of two different actresses. While Jones often played more heroic roles, Foy often played more experimental parts.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Felicity Jones

Felicity Jones began her career as a child actress in England, where she appeared on The Weird Witch (1998-1999) and its sequel Weirdsister Cottage (2001). Throughout her early twenties to mid-twenties, she would appear on television before transitioning to film in 2008. As a film actress, she started appearing in high profile projects pretty early, such as Stephen Frears’ Chéri (2009) starring Michelle Pfieffer and Julie Taymor’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest (2010) starring Helen Mirren.

Although not unknown to American audiences (she had starred in multiple films by American director Drake Doremus), she became more known after starring in The Theory of Everything (2014), which she received an Oscar nomination for. In the film, she played the wife of Physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) as he experiences a physical breakdown to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Throughout her career, Jones has worked with the many of the finest movie actors and directors. Actors including Helen Mirren, Tom Hanks, Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver, Forrest Whitaker, and Kathy Bates. In terms of directors, she has worked with J. A. Bayona, Ron Howard, Gareth Edwards, and more.

Jones also starred in a movie called Collide that was technically first released in 2016. However, Collide experienced a long and difficult release process. It was originally supposed to receive a 2015 release, but had to find a new distributor after Relativity Media went bankrupt. Since it eventually received a United States release in early 2017 and was widely forgotten about, it will not appear in this article.

Claire Foy

Unlike Jones, Foy was an adult when her career started. While she acted mostly in Britain, she did appear in a few American films, such as the Nicolas Cage vehicle Season of the Witch (2011), Vampire Academy (2014) and comedian Jon Stewart’s directorial debut Rosewater (2015).

Foy became more well noticed in the Unites States with the Netflix Series The Crown (2016 – ). Foy played Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown (2016 -), a role which won her an Emmy. According to Foy, the role changed her as an actor. Unlike many of her previous roles, the role required her to change her accent considerably.

Foy’s choices have been experimental. She has worked with more actors connected with television. She has been directed by multiple actors making their directorial debut (Jon Stewart and Andy Serkis). Some of the most prestigious directors she has worked with (Steven Soderbergh, Damian Chazelle) have been known for their more experimental nature.

Domestic Roles

In these roles, Jones and Foy play wives and mothers struggling to cope in a difficult situation. Both roles are closely related to the male lead of the story.

A Monster Calls (2016)

Conor O’Malley (Lewis McDougall) is having a hard time. His parents have just divorced. His comforting Mother (Jones) has cancer. He keeps getting picked on at school by a bully. One night, a giant tree monster (Liam Neeson) comes into Conor’s house to tell him three stories if Conor will tell him a fourth.

Origins of the Project

A Monster Calls began as a novel by Patrick Ness, based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd. Suffering from Cancer, Dowd died before she could write the novel. Ness took over the book. He also wrote the screenplay for the movie.

The Film

A Monster Called is told from Conor’s perspective. The film credits the adult roles as Mom, Dad, and Grandma. Adults and their conversations are often overheard or seen through doorways. The fantastical world with the monster is has a larger scale. The worlds are big and colorful compared to the much more minimal color palette in the real world.

The film’s director J.A. Bayona has a long history with fantastical premises and creating large scale special effects. He had begun his career as a protégé of Guillermo Del Toro. Before this, Bayona made the horror film The Orphanage (2007) and the disaster movie The Impossible (2012). After making A Monster Calls, Bayona’s next project would be Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018).

The Character

Jones’ character is the sort of woman who finds humor and lightness in the grimmest situations. When the Grandma (Sigourney Weaver) gives her a wig to hide her hair loss, Mom says that she thinks “that Grandma’s trying to turn her into Tina Turner.” When she finally admits that she is going to die, she says that she will always be there for Conor.

Mom also appears in Conor’s dreams. He dreams of trying to grab her hand so she does not fall off a cliff. However, he keeps waking up after letting go.

Throughout the film, Jones’s Mom is shown to be the artist. The end of the film reveals her sketchbook has sketches of the Monster and all his stories.

First Man (2018)

Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) risks his life to go to the moon. While Armstrong maneuvers the difficulties of leaving the Earth’s atmosphere, his wife Janet (Foy) worries about him and tries her best to help.

Origins of the Project

The film is adapted from the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong (2005) by Aeronautics historian James R. Hansen. The book chronicles the first man on the moon’s life, including many personal details.

The Film’s Producers brought in director Damian Chazelle, who had just mad the acclaimed Whiplash (2014) and was working on La La Land (2018). All of Armstrong’s sons and wives helped in the making of the project and are thanked in the end credits.

The Film

Unlike many biopics based on real people, First Man feels like an independent film that got a big budget. The soft-focus close-ups often shake a little bit instead of looking slick and beautiful. Unless discussing a technical aspect of the moon landing or a deeply personal issue, Characters tend to either not speak at all or speak in short sentences. It also chooses to focus on the more unknown aspects of Armstrong’s life, such as the death of his daughter and his home life. Director Damian Chazelle said that the film should focus on “the moon and the kitchen.”  All of these choices make the film less triumphant and more probing.

Even before it was released, First Man experienced a whole bunch of small controversies from all sides. Chazelle saw the film as a portrait of the Neil Armstrong that nobody knew. The film received criticism from conservative critics and politicians for not including the planting of the flag on the moon. astronaut Buzz Aldrin posted pictures of the planting of the flag and multiple hashtags about proudly planting the flag. In a different set of criticisms, New Yorker critic Richard Brody He felt that the film longed for a magical time period of Americana and diminished the contributions of women and people of color in the Moon landing. Brody was not the only one voicing these concerns either.

The Character

Foy plays Janet Armstrong as a Woman who loves her taciturn husband, but also finds him very difficult to deal with on an emotional level. In one scene of the movie, she mentions that married Neil to have a stable life.

Her two biggest dramatic scenes in the movie involve communication. The first has Janet confronting NASA about turning off her communication box when they experience a technical problem in space. The second involves her blowing up at her husband when he refuses to tell their sons that he might not be coming up from this dangerous mission.

A Troubled Young Woman

In these films, Jones and Foy play a woman that society considers eccentric, even odd. However, her true nature becomes a central conflict of the story.

Inferno (2016)

After waking up in a hospital room under the care of doctor Sienna Brooks (Jones), Harvard Professor and symbiologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) learns of a plague created by recently deceased Billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) to curtail the ever-growing human population. Suffering from amnesia, Langdon keeps having apocalyptic visions of multiple people dying from the plague. With Brooks, he must recover his memory and figure out what is going on.

Origins of the Project

Inferno is the third in the Robert Langdon series of the films, adapted from the series of Dan Brown novels. All are directed by Ron Howard and star Hanks. The series follows Robert Langdon as he tries to solve a mystery involving ancient religious artifacts. Like many of the stories, Langdon finds a female companion along the way who will help him solve the mystery.

The Film

Like the previous installments, it features some of the most popular European actors from the time. Unlike the previous films, this is the shortest and least expensive film in the series. Some of this has to do with the way it is cut, directed, and written. Many of the longer sequences were cut down.

Certain changes were implemented for the movie version. First, they gave Langdon a love interest. Second, they made the virus a much more deadly and fast working contagion (in the book, it sterilizes people).

The Character

A little over halfway through the film, Brooks is revealed to be Zobrist’s girlfriend and the real villain of the piece. In another set of circumstances, Brooks would be seen as an almost heroic character. At the end of the film, she sacrifices herself for what she believes in.

Throughout the film, the film asks us whether she’s quirky or kooky. At the beginning of the film, she says that she’s a big fan of Langdon and saw him speak at the age of 9. He calls her a “weird kid” to himself and she agrees with him.

In the making of documentaries, screenwriter David Koepp admits that the Robert Langdon series is not particularly character driven, but that they try to put in character details where they can. Some of the characterization did not end up on the big screen. In the book version, Sienna Brooks has experienced the horrors of Overpopulation while doing research work in Africa. In a deleted scene, Brooks also explains that the clothes she’s wearing are those of her boyfriend.

Unsane (2018)

Sawyer Valentini (Foy) gets placed in a mental institution against her will after claiming she’s being stalked by a stalker that she moved away to avoid.

Origins of the Project

Experimental director Steven Soderbergh made Unsane secretly. He shot the film entirely on I-Phones. Foy described making the film as like making a student film.

The Film

In Unsane, Soderbergh makes a film that is very much a genre film, but that also experiments with technology and storytelling. He shoots on I-Phones, which adds to the paranoid feel of the story.

In this film, Soderbergh chose to cast actors from television or smaller movies. Aside from Foy, Saturday Night Live alum Jay Pharoah shows up as a fellow patient who is revealed to be an undercover journalist. While he plays the antagonist, actor Joshua Leonard is best known for his debut feature, The Blair Witch Project (1999). While Academy Award winner Matt Damon appears in a brief cameo as a detective helping Sawyer, he does not make much of an impact on the story.

The Character

Sawyer Valentini is sort of a hot blooded cold character. The film presents her as neither the most sympathetic character nor as the most diabolical. In the film, she is right about almost everything that is going on in the institution. However, she still experiences trauma and mental health problems due to her stalker.

She is somebody who is good at her job, but sees her stalker everywhere she goes. Early on in the film, she picks up a man in a bar to have sex with, only to see him turn into her stalker. This leads her to seek help and get placed into the institution against her will.

At the end of the film, Sawyer is revealed to still be suffering from her stalker when she walks up to a man who looks like her stalker with a knife and places it against his neck. It turns out not to be David. She drops the knife and runs away.

The Blockbuster

At the end of both years, Jones and Foy starred in big Franchise films. Both featured them in similar roles.

In many ways, Rogue One (2016) and The Girl in The Spider’s Web (2018) tell very similar stories. Both begin with a little girl (played in both films by Beau Gadsdon) running away from a horrible situation. This little girl grows up to become a bitter and hard individual who is cut off from her family. In each film, the woman tries to avoid dealing with their family issues, but circumstances beyond her control force her to get involved. Things spiral out of control until the protagonist is forced to face off against the biggest demon from her past on top of a high place. This antagonist is vanquished, but not by the Protagonist’s hand.

While Rogue One was a success, The Girl in The Spider’s Web was a box office bomb.

Rogue One (2016)

The daughter of one of the Empire’s top scientists (Mads Mikkelsen), Jyn Erso (Jones) reluctantly gets recruited by the resistance to find her father. A top imperial scientist, her father has designed the ultimate weapon in the death star. However, he has created a strong weakness in it. It’s up to Jyn and a rogue’s gallery of Rebels to find the plans, transmit them, and save the day.

Origins of Project 

Rogue One is the first Star Wars spin-off film. While the main series followed Jedis, a mystical energy called the Force, and the Skywalker family, the spin-off series focuses on characters who are not as mystical, such as Han Solo and the characters in this movie.

This film series fills in gaps of the primary film series. While they simply receive plans for the death star in the original film, this film explains how they got those plans in the first place.

The Film

Rogue One is a little grittier film than the previous Star Wars films. While the force is a big part of the previous films, it’s pretty much relegated to the supporting cast here. Almost all the lead characters have a more practical, less mystical skill set.

The film also is the first to not feature an opening crawl. This makes it feel more novelistic. The scenes include many characters explaining their backstories.

It also had a long and difficult journey to the big screen. After the studio saw original director Gareth Edwards’ cut, they brought in director Tony Gilroy to do reshoots and make the film more comprehensible. Not a fan of the series, Gilroy decided to make it a “Battle of Britain” movie and explore what would make a whole bunch of characters sacrifice themselves at the end of the story. Gilroy won a screenplay credit for his work.

The Character

As a character, Jyn has been moved around from home to home. She has two absent father figures: Galen Erso and Saw Gurrerra (Forrest Whitaker). Galen Erso tried to run away from the empire, but imperial officer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) brought him back. While the elder Erso has not been in her life for a long time, Guerrera abandoned her when more and more people found out that she was the daughter of an important imperial scientist.

At the beginning of the story, Jyn starts out as a selfish character who has been hurt many time. It takes the death of both her father figures to make her realize the importance of this. By the end of the story, she is willing to sacrifice her life for the resistance.

In the titular storytelling lesson of Blake Snyder’s screenwriting manual Save The Cat (2005), the screenwriter will build sympathy for the hero by having him or her save a cat early on in the film. Rogue One has a version of “Saving the Cat” where Jyn Erso saves a child in a gunfight from some Storm Troopers. It is one of the first non-selfish thing she has done throughout the story.

The ending of the film has Jyn Erso facing off against Krennic, an officer for the Empire and the Man who tore her family apart many years earlier. As Krennic closes in on her, ally Cassian (Diego Luna) shoots him. This allows her to transfer the plans and save the day.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

As part of an assignment, Lisbeth Salander (Foy) steals Firefall, an important computer program created by Frans Balder (Stephan Merchant). Balder wants it back, as it contains the launch codes of missiles. When multiple people come for her, she finds that the computer program might be more dangerous than she initially expected. In order to save the world, Lisbeth must confront her past.

Origins of Project

Spider’s Web is an American adaptation of the fourth book in the Swedish Millennium series, which follows anti-social hacker Lisbeth Salander and Journalist Mikael Blomkvist. It is also the first book written by original author Stieg Larsson. The new book is by David Lagercrantz. Since this is an adaptation of the fourth book in the series, Lisbeth Salander is significantly older than the last American film in the series.

Director Fede Alvarez wanted to make the film because of Lisbeth Salander. He wanted to make a film that focused primarily on Salander, rather than using the previous films’ approach of seeing her through Blomkvist’s eyes.

The Film

Spider’s Web is a film about moving on from the past. Lisbeth Salander must move on from her sister and father. The end of the film has her burning her childhood home to the ground. Her friend and former lover Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) must stop writing about Salander. He also must contend with the fact that his company has been bought by a young millionaire. After his father Frans is murdered, autistic child August Balder (Christopher Convery) says that his father would want him to get over his death as it is in the past.

It is also a film full of exceptional characters. Salander can hack into a National Security Agency (NSA) computer. NSA agent Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield) was a hacker known as “warchild.” He joined the NSA because it paid better. August Balder is an autistic savant who knows the password to Firefall, which is a complicated number problem.

The Character

This was a role that both Foy and Jones were up for at one point. Foy ultimately ended up receiving it. Like Jyn Erso, Salander has run away from her family. Unlike Erso, her family is full of monstrous people. Alvarez saw the film as being anchored by the relationship between Salander and her sister Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks). While Rogue One’s climax has Jyn facing off with the man who tore apart her family, Spider’s Web ends with Salander facing off against her crueler sister. Whereas another person shoots the villain in Rogue One, Spider’s Web has Camilla committing suicide by falling off a cliff.

While the child in danger scene is a moment in Rogue One, it is central to the protagonist and story of Spider’s Web. The opening of the film has Salander as a child playing chess with her sister. Early on in the film, Salander saves a woman and her daughter from her abusive husband. As they leave, Salander makes eye contact with the child.

Throughout the second half of the story, Salander forms a bond with Frans’s son August. When August gets kidnapped by the bad guys in the movie, Salander hacks into the car’s computer. She tells him to buckle up through the computer before releasing airbags that incapacitate the driver. She then takes him to safety in a car she has stolen. When forced to steal a car to get away, she steals one that August picks out. She plays chess with him to coax out the secret password of Firefall. Salander seems to have a better relationship with August than any other character in the movie.

Saturday Night Live

Both actresses appeared in an episode of the sketch show Saturday Night Live (1975 – ) to promote various projects. In both cases, the episode took place in winter as both Jones and Foy had films that came out around that time of year. Both actresses had a slightly different approach to the show.

Felicity Jones (2016)

Jones’s episode was a more transparent plug for her film Rogue One. Every advertisement and the opening monologue make some mention to Star Wars. The monologue has SNL alum Tina Fey appearing to her dressed in Princess Leia garb.

Another theme of all these videos is that they all have Jones seeking validation. Fey is there in the opening to coach her on how to do the show. The trailer for the episode has Jones asking a bunch of Storm Troopers how she is doing.

The Sketches

As an actress on the show, Jones often played more straight-laced characters. In the sketches where she does play a freakish character, it is often as part of a group. Some of her sketches include:

  1. “Theatre Donor”: Jones plays the put-upon nurse to a wealthy yet difficult elderly theatre donor (Mikey Day).
  2. “The Princess and The Curse”: Jones plays princess Viola who is cursed by a wicked witch (Kate McKinnon). Every evening, she transforms into herself, but fifteen pounds heavier. She has difficulty explain this to her possible suitor, Prince Benedict (Beck Bennett).
  3. “Movie Interview”: Jones, Beck Bennett, and Kyle Mooney do a press junket for the fictional movie “Hot Robot 3: Journey to Boob Mountain.” While this is obviously an American Pie knock-off with a robot, the three portray it as a prestige picture that has an important message about women’s rights and feminism.

With these sketches, the perspective is often on Jones’s side or has her playing an English actress. She is rarely the butt of the joke and more often gives the perspective of the joke.

Claire Foy (2018)

Claire Foy’s show focuses more on her ability to play characters and do voices. The previews of the show had multiple accents about Foy’s accent, including one about how she had done so many voices that she could not remember her original voice.

Foy’s monologue was more political and self-deprecating. The jokes focused on subjects like Brexit, her role in the Queen, and her ability to get roles playing strong women.

The Sketches

Throughout the episode, Foy only plays an English character twice. Among other characters, she plays:

  1. a Home shopping network host who thinks her network is called the “homosexual shopping network.” She does not quite believe it when corrected.
  2. Charlie Bucket from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).
  3. A mistress straight out of Goodfellas (1991), who co-hosts her own talk show Good Morning Goomah. On the show, they discuss what it is like to be a mistress.

Perhaps the best remembered sketch from the evening is one where she does play an English woman: “The War in Words.” In it, Foy plays the wife of a World War I soldier (Mikey Day) who keeps replying to his well-meaning letters in an increasingly distressing manner.

Conclusion

In many ways, both of these actresses had similar career trajectories. However, their choices in roles have defined their careers in many different ways.

After appearing in three movies in one year, both Foy and Jones did not appear in another movie for a year. Two years later, both actresses came out with new projects. Jones starred in On the Basis of Sex (2018), about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s fight for equal rights in the male dominated court system. Foy is starring in the upcoming Louis Wain (2020), in which she plays the wife of painter Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch). She will also reunite with Crown co-star Matt Smith for a revival of play Lungs (2011), which focuses on a couple discussing whether to have a child on an overpopulated planet. Both actresses continue on to the next projects their careers.