The power of the pen

Class divides and family dynamics are tested in Alice Troughton’s psychological thriller, as a young author becomes a tutor for a writing maestro’s son. Anna Patarakina FSF tells us how she translated Troughton’s vision into The Lesson’s noirish visuals.

How did you get involved with your project and what appealed to you about the story being told?

I was first introduced to director Alice Troughton on the set of the Sky TV series, The Midwich Cuckoos. Alice was the EP and 1st block director, and I was shooting the final block. Though our time together was brief, we connected over our shared interest in visual metaphors and subtext, so I was delighted when Alice contacted me a few weeks later inviting me to read the script for The Lesson. The story immediately captured my attention with its intricate yet measured drama, rich and nuanced characters, and complex themes. Alice and I discussed the potential tonality of the film, and we agreed it needed to be both harrowing and sophisticated.

What was it about lensing The Lesson that appealed to you as a DP?

Alex MacKeith’s brilliant and intelligent script was brimming with references to classical literature, art, and music. It was a joy to read, and I could immediately envision how Alice’s sensitivity and wit would enhance this already intriguing script; it made me want to be part of it. She is a very clever director, and it was an honour to be asked to shoot her debut feature.

As a cinematographer, I’ve had the privilege of working on a wide range of projects, yet I’ve always most enjoyed working on contained, ensemble dramas, as a confined physical space can work to highlight the psychological and emotional experiences of the characters. The script’s incorporation of film noir elements was very appealing as well. I saw it as an invitation to play with the atmosphere, adding to the intrigue and suspense, where shadows and visual motifs can be used to embrace it.

Tell us about your initial conversations with Alice about the look and mood for the film. What was her vision and what new perspectives did you bring? Furthermore, what references did you exchange?

During our initial conversations, Alice and I dove right into the look and mood, taking inspiration from the traditional format of a book consisting of a prologue, three parts, and an epilogue. Our goal was to create an almost tactile experience, evoking the sensation of opening an old book and feeling the texture of its pages.

One prominent theme in the script was the exploration of originality, and the absence of new ideas. The line, “Good writers borrow. Great writers steal,” served as an invitation to fully embrace references to great masters’ work, which provided a sense of creative liberation.

Read the full interview here in British Cinematographer.