An actress agonises over the offer of a part.
By Katherine Jones
“Andrea, I don’t think you will ever get a better offer!” These conclusive words from her agent finally tipped the balance for Andrea and, running her hands through her hair, she said tearfully: “Ok you are right, I will do it.”
The actress, Andrea Shaw, had been looking at the outline script she had been sent almost nonstop over the previous two days. This phone call discussion with her agent had finally resolved her to go ahead and accept the lead role of Marianne Beer.
Andrea was facing her 35th birthday and knew that her opportunities for significant roles were gradually diminishing. The British-American production of a film of a turbulent part of Marianne’s life was potentially a significant role for Andrea which could extend and enhance her career.
Marianne was the British born wife of the American banker, James Beer. Marianne had been brought up in rural East Yorkshire and was a quiet and studious girl with a strong catholic faith. She moved to London to work in the City after University in Bristol and in the capital she began to free herself from the restraints of her upbringing. Beautiful as well as intelligent, she caught the attention of a number of rich and powerful men, but she met and married Beer whilst they worked together for a major international bank. When Beer was given the opportunity to lead the Bank’s investment arm in a major East Asian capital city, the couple embarked on their new life with enthusiasm and optimism.
Three years into the posting their marriage was in tatters, principally as a result of Beer’s obsession with profit, work and a twenty year old finance administrator who worked in his office. Marianne, now 36 years old and fast losing hope of ever starting a family, took some comfort in the company of a former employee of the Bank. His charm and good looks, however, proved to be a cover for his deep involvement in the local drugs trade. Inevitably, Marianne was inadvertently drawn into this world and was eventually arrested and charged with low level drugs offences.
Beer rallied to his wife’s defence following her arrest. He funded a significant legal team and the British and American Governments worked tirelessly behind the scenes to have the charges dropped. However Marianne was eventually found guilty of two counts and sentenced to four months imprisonment and twelve strokes of the cane on her bare buttocks. The further intervention of the Governments was not able to prevent the sentence being carried out.
Once she was deported to the UK after completion of her prison sentence Marianne, whilst not seeking publicity or celebrity status, had written a very honest account of her life and experiences which had been published in a national newspaper and this story was to be the basis of the film. This was a role with such depth that Andrea was desperate to take it on but she had doubts.
As she weighed the arguments, Andrea had very contrasting thoughts. Recently deserted by her own husband who had also opted for the love of a younger woman, she understood Marianne’s rage and her ultimately disastrous attempts to overcome the pain and frustration. However the amount of nudity required by the role and the very realistic caning scene which would be central to the story were a great challenge for Andrea.
Andrea’s career had been almost all that she could have wished for. This blue eyed girl with light brown hair had made her way from youth theatre in the East Midlands to a place at drama school and had then gone on to amass a steady flow of TV, theatre and film appearances. She was a familiar face to the public but was very much a working actress, not a celebrity. However in her 34th year the roles were beginning to dry up and a summer in a minor part in a short-lived production in the West End was her last engagement.
Andrea was not afraid of nudity. As her agent had reminded her recently, anyone who wanted to see her naked bottom needed only three clicks on the internet, thanks to her role in a previous British–American production of a historical drama. This was her only nude scene to date and the role of Marianne required much more nudity then Andrea had ever previously experienced. The script contained a strip search, naked shower and sex scenes and then the caning scene. All of these Andrea would be expected to perform.
Once she had accepted the role, Andrea held to the belief that she would not have to actually receive the cane on her bare bottom. She assumed there were ways of filming the scene without her suffering any actual strokes. However her agent was not sure and anyway Andrea knew that nothing was ever certain in these situations until the day of the filming.
The movie was made largely in the United States but the prison scenes were to be filmed in England where a disused Victorian prison had been secured for the purpose. Once filming got underway, Andrea found that she loved the role of Marianne and she threw herself into the production. This immersion in her work kept at bay her worries about her impending divorce and her anxiety about the prison and caning scenes.
Once back in the UK three months later, Andrea woke in her hotel room on a warm and sunny mid-summer morning knowing that she had to face a day of nude scenes followed by a second day working on the caning scene. Andrea had kept herself in good shape throughout her life and worked particularly hard on her fitness in the run up to filming knowing that her naked body would be very exposed in the role. This gave her confidence ahead of the day’s filming but her anxiety level was nevertheless high.
At the conclusion of day one, Andrea sank a glass of red wine and reflected that she was quite happy with the prison scenes and most of the nudity. The shower scene was quite tastefully filmed, she felt, except for one rear view shot which Andrea thought rather unnecessary. The strip search was quite humiliating and required full frontal nudity, something she had not done before and was quite uncomfortable with. However she got through it and was reasonably content with the “rushes” when she had viewed them late in the afternoon.
The caning scene was now Andrea’s great dread. It had been agreed that it would be filmed as quickly as possible and the aim was one take. The Director’s hope was that the speed of the filming would ensure it was as realistic as possible and faithful to the account Marianne herself had recorded in her newspaper article. He had also made it clear to Andrea that she would have to feel the full force of the cane on her naked bottom to make the scene realistic.
Andrea woke next morning in a state of high anxiety having slept very fitfully. She arrived early at the set and quietly examined her deliberately makeup free face in the mirror and then changed into a light blue prison robe. Her hair was tied tight back and the sun caught the auburn streaks which had been added to reflect Marianne’s hair colour. Andrea felt she captured fully how Marianne would have looked on that fateful morning.
In her written account Marianne explained that she had been informed of the impending caning the night before it took place. She had been given a special robe to wear for the next day instead of her usual prison uniform. This robe could, conveniently, be easily opened at the back. She was also told not to wear her regulation blue prison knickers.
With a second cup of coffee inside her, Andrea braced herself and then told the Director that she was now ready to get into the role of Marianne. She took a deep breath and then made her way alone into the prison cell as the cameras began to roll.
As the script and Marianne’s account dictated, she sat quietly reading a book in a rather distracted way. She looked up as the door lock suddenly rattled and a group of five local men dressed as prison officers entered the cell. Andrea paused for a second and then put down her book. She slowly removed her reading glasses then stood and crossed herself twice whilst mumbling a very brief but inaudible prayer. She then offered her outstretched arms and was handcuffed in a rather rough and unceremonious way. This was exactly as Marianne had described the scene.
Andrea was then led out of the cell into the early morning sunshine. Set up in the centre of the courtyard she had now entered was a wooden caning frame which was surrounded by men in uniform. Andrea took a deep breath and reminded herself that she should see the scene through without breaking her stride or pausing for respite. She began to cry, partly in role and also partly reflecting her anxiety about this scene and her fear of the pain and humiliation she was about to experience.
Arriving at the caning frame, a local actor, who was taking the role of the officer in charge, addressed Andrea in broken English and read out her charges and sentence. He then gave the signal for her to be released from the handcuffs and she was led towards the caning frame. Her hands were pulled high and strapped above her head to the top of the frame. This forced her to rest her thinly covered pubic area and the top of her thighs on the padding at the centre of the frame. This was aimed at pushing her bottom out and also cushioning the blows from the cane.
Andrea knew what was coming next, having read and re-read Marianne’s story and anguished long and hard over the script and Director’s guidance for each scene. It was therefore no surprise when she saw out of the corner of her eye a female prison office approach her and open up her robe at the back, completely exposing her buttocks and thighs. Her ankles were then shackled to the frame and the final part of her bonds was a large strap place across the small of her back which completely secured her to the frame but also would provide protection for her lower back from stray strokes of the cane.
Now strapped in and with her bottom fully exposed, Andrea was living out the moments she had dreaded since the script had first arrived in her email inbox. Rejecting another offer from the Director to pause, she braced herself as a solidly built local actor dressed in full Prison Officer uniform approached her carrying a fearsome looking rattan cane. She felt the tip of it tap rhythmically on her bare bottom as this executioner appraised his target and then held the moment for dramatic effect.
“Crack!” The first stroke tore through the air and landed across the middle of Andrea’s exposed buttocks. All the breath burst out of her body as the pain suddenly struck home. She braced herself, knowing that she had to take five more of these blows to give the Director enough material to cover the twelve strokes suffered by Marianne. The actor who was inflicting the caning had been told not to hold back to ensure the realism of the scene.
Andrea let out a loud cry as the second stroke landed, whipping into the soft tissue of her bottom. Re-enacting Marianne’s account, Andrea began to shout out for the help of her God but when the third stroke landed at the base of her bottom brushing the top of her thighs she cried out a visceral and haunting scream.
The fourth stroke forced Andrea’s head to jerk back and she began pushing and pulling against the restraints in a vain attempt to break free. Stroke five was delivered in a frenzy of screaming and shouting as Andrea sought to replicate Marianne’s memories of the final few strokes of the full set of twelve. However the sixth and Andrea’s final stroke was delivered with such force to the base of her bottom that it almost felt like it lifted her off her feet and produced a howl of pain from Andrea who was now completely out of role and simply dealing with her own very real agony.
As Andrea recovered her composure, she was anxious to quickly regain some dignity and conclude the scene as soon as possible. She again refused the offer of a break from filming. However she was aware of the script’s requirement for her wounds to be examined by a male Doctor before she could be released from the frame. Andrea braced herself again and endured this unwanted touching of her bruised and battered bottom and was then allowed free from the restraints and the lights and cameras were at last turned off.
Five hours later, Andrea was alone in her hotel room lying naked on her front watching the results of the day’s filming. Although in agony from the six wounds which covered the whole of her bottom, she was nevertheless proud of the scenes and also just a little aroused by both the caning itself and the scenes on film which she now could see.
Only time would tell if the film was to be well received and help her to revive her career. However as she lay on her bed Andrea reflected that she had at least seized the opportunity and taken the risk of playing this most challenging of roles.
Nine months later, a woman sat quietly alone in a comfortable house in East Yorkshire as the credits rolled at the end of the film of a turbulent part of her life. Marianne felt it was an honest representation and that Andrea had captured her looks and her spirit almost flawlessly. Perhaps now she could move on with her life and that there was no more to say about this extraordinary time.
© Katherine Jones 2015