My adventure began when I arrived at Versailles. Wait, no, it began at the airport when the production company sent a car for me. (I could get used to this.) Or maybe it began when the driver had to chase off another driver who tried to poach me. (I think that’s what happened. My French is rudimentary. I stumble through a couple of phrases of bad high-school French and the person says “Would you like it if we spoke English?” and I say “Thank you thank you thank you.”)
The car played chicken with Paris traffic all the way to Versailles, where I checked in at the Trianon Palace hotel and felt very well taken care of by the concierges — “Madame, you did not tell us you spoke French!” (“Merci” and “Bonjour” get you quite a way.)
When the adventure really began was a few weeks earlier when Bill Mechanic, the producer of the movie of my alternate history novel, The Moon and the Sun, invited me to visit the filming. After some hesitation — and some encouragement from a number of friends — I realized this was an opportunity that would never happen again.
The filming was at the chateau de Versailles, the site of the court of Louis XIV, le roi soleil. It’s a national historic site of France. The production had unprecedented access to the chateau. The day I arrived, and the next two days, they filmed all night.
Bill welcomed me, introduced me to co-producer Paul Currie, gave me my crew badge (I’m keeping it forever) and showed me some amazing film clips and production stills.
Then it was off to watch the filming.
In the Hall of Mirrors.
It’s relatively rare for a novelist to be invited to the filming of a movie based on her book. I was well aware that this was a unique privilege. My plan was to stay out of the way and watch more or less from the shadows, and be vewwy vewwy quiet.
Bill was having none of this, and took me around to introduce me to Sean McNamara, a wonderful teddy bear of a person who directs with kindness, and to cast members: Pierce Brosnan (Louis XIV) and Kaya Scodelario (Marie-Josephe) and Crystal Clarke and Ben Lloyd-Hughes. (I got to meet William Hurt and Benjamin Walker a couple of days later.) Everyone was welcoming and complimentary, and devoted to making a beautiful fairy-tale movie.
Making a movie requires a lot of people and an amount of organization that is hard to imagine for a novelist who sits in her office and makes stuff up. Someone described it as solving a giant Rubik’s Cube (something I’ve never succeeded in doing).
I came to think of it as an intricate dance, a description that became quite meta the last night in the Hall of Mirrors. The company filmed a court dance sequence choreographed by Jasna Harris and scored by Nicholas Britell and played by a small orchestral group that included world-class violinist Tim Fain.
Every so often I’m compelled to emit a bit of research. I was delighted to see women in the orchestra. Women musicians and composers were a part of the court of Louis XIV, but they’ve been almost entirely written out of history.
I did a lot of research on music of the period and never came across any information on women musicians. I found out about them from my friend Ron Drummond, who is an expert on Baroque music. In particular he told me about Elisabeth-Claude Jacquette de la Guerre . . . who was the pre-eminent composer of the court of Louis XIV. She was allowed to dedicate anything she wrote to the king, without prior approval. (Ordinarily you would have to get approval for each separate piece of music, art, literature, because it wouldn’t do to dedicate a sub-par creation to the sun king.) It’s only in the last few years that her work has been rediscovered, played, and recorded.
I was delighted to find that Nick and Tim were both interested to hear about her.
Filming the dance sequence continued till the very last minute of the very last night of filming in the Hall of Mirrors. Pierce Brosnan was in every scene.
His last shot of the sequence was at 5:30.
In the morning.
When he came over to look at the playback, I said, “I think you must be nuclear powered.”