If I Were Casting That Hideous Strength


thathideousstrength1One of my favorite books is That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis, the final novel in his Space Trilogy. As far as I know, there are no plans to make it into a movie—but there should be! Its a great story, with an ever-relevant message (which Lewis also makes in The Abolition of Man), and beyond that, I think it could be turned into a movie much more easily than most other books-turned-movies. For example, I think this book makes for a much more natural movie than the Narnia stories. I’ve read or listened to it many times over, and I’m currently listening to it once again. Its got me thinking how I would cast it if it ever were made into a film. So here goes nothing!

Two quick caveats: first, I would probably relocate the film from the U.K. to the U.S., because I think that would be better suited for the early 21st century, as opposed to 1943 when Lewis wrote the book. I’m not sure what that would mean for the Merlin part of the narrative (that might need be changed?), but I mention it that so you don’t imagine all these actors with British accents! Second, obviously this would be quite an expensive film with all these actors and actresses. So this may not be very realistic. But its a fun experiment anyway.

joseph-gordon-levitt-late-show-with-david-letterman-01Mark Studdock. Mark is the book’s chief protagonist, a young sociologist determined to get inside the “inner circle” at Bracton, a small college in the fictitious town of Edgestow. I think of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as playing this role very well (if it helps you place him, he was Robin in The Dark Knight Rises). He’s a great actor, young enough for this role, and seems like he would play well a younger, ambitious, easily-manipulated academic.

936full-olivia-thirlbyJane Studdock. Jane is Mark’s wife (they are recently married and struggling a bit in their married life). She discovers early on that she has clairvoyant dreams. For her I think of Olivia Thirlby (who played Leah in Juno). Not sure why, its just how I picture her. She is the right age (Jane is said to be 23 in the book, Thirlby is in her late 20’s), and I think she could pull off the proud, isolated attitude Jane adopts throughout the book.

MV5BMTkxNTc4ODE1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjA5NzY5Mg@@._V1_SY317_CR13,0,214,317_AL_Curry. Curry is a leader in the “Progressive Element” at Bracton, and plays a large role early on as Mark is advancing in the college. I can’t remember his first name. He is an opportunist, and very self-important. I think he would be played well by James Reborn. He’s one of my favorite character actors, and been in many good movies. The way Reborn played his character in The Talented Mr. Ripley makes me think he would be good for a role like this.

12171-3537John Wither. Wither is the Deputy Director of the N.I.C.E. (the evil organization that takes over the government and is basically trying to immortalize humanity). Whither is polite and formal and well-spoken, but extremely evil and has a kind of shadowy presence around the Institute. I think he could be played perfectly by Donald Moffat. Moffat has played a lot of other roles where he is both very professional and yet still a bad guy (e.g., the President in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger).

MV5BMTk2NjkyODk0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwOTc2NzY2._V1_SX214_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Augustus Frost. Frost is truly a chilling character (hence the name). He is a psychologist and one of the highest people in the N.I.C.E. He is extremely logical and cold and blunt, and regards thought and moral values as chemical phenomena to be ignored as distractions from scientific inquiry. I think Matt Frewer would be perfect for this role (from the show Orphan Black—he was also the irritated neighbor in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids).

tumblr_lxwzgwxZdG1rn9j8qo1_400Miss Hardcastle (a.k.a. “The Fairy”). Miss Hartcastle is the head of the N.I.C.E. Police. She is a sadist and lesbian. She enjoys torture and has an extremely bullying personality. I can’t find any actress who looks like I picture her in my mind, but I bet Maggie Smith would do a great job (she’s been in Harry Potter and a zillion other things).

"Twelve Angry Men" Ahmanson Theatre OpeningDr. Filostrato. Filostrato is an obese Italian professor in the N.I.C.E. He wants to free humanity from the constraints of organic life, and seems to be one of the chief scientists who is doing the manual labor of trying to preserve a human head apart from its body to this end. For this role I pick Robert Costanzo, who has played an Italian minor character in lots of movies, and does a lot of voice acting (like in Batman: The Animated Series). Another option would be Michael Lerner.

Bruce-McGill-Images_0Lord Feverstone (Dick Devine). Feverstone is important early on in getting Mark to the N.I.C.E., but his role seems to dissipate later in the book as the Institute gets more and more power and does not need him. He is a politician and businessman. In Out of the Silent Planet, he was one of the men who kidnapped Ransom and put him on their ship. He is presented as ruthlessly self-serving and aggressive. I think he would be portrayed well by Bruce McGill.

MV5BMTQ4ODM3ODA3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzg1ODQ1._V1_SX214_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Reverend Straik. Straik is called the “Mad Parson” in the book. He is some sort of clergyman, but reinterprets all Christian theology in terms of the aims of the N.I.C.E. For instance, he believes the “real meaning” of the doctrine of the resurrection is the N.I.C.E.’s  recreation of humanity as mind free from matter. The book records that he used to be a good man, but went out of orbit, so to speak, when his daughter died. For this one I go with Frank Vincent, even though his physical appearance is a bit different from what I picture Straik as from Lewis’ description in the book.

Toby_Jones-4Horace Jules. Jules is the public head of the N.I.C.E., but has little knowledge of its real business. He is a novelist and amateur academic. He is absent early on, but has a strong and boisterous presence in one important scene late in the story. For Jules I go with Toby Jones (who was one of the politicians opposing Wilberforce in Amazing Grace if that helps place him). I think he would do well playing a somewhat pompous, self-important character.

BGeorge+Wyner+TV+Land+Hot+Cleveland+Retired+qwCeW3KRVY_lill Hingest (“Bill the Blizzard”). Hingest is a distinguished chemist who is murdered by the N.I.C.E. Mark is then blamed for his murder. Though different from his physical description in the book, I go with George Wyner.

Guy Pearce-1Ransom (“the Director”). I think Guy Pierce would make a good Ransom, who is the leader of the House at St. Anne’s, where the good characters assemble. Ransom is the main character of the earlier two books in The Space Trilogy. By this point he is a little older, and has a painful injury in his foot, but still looks relatively young and has a very strong, confident presence in the novel. I think Pierce could portray him well, and he is a fantastic actor, and I don’t think his previous roles would overshadow this one.

ben-kingsley-premiere-bad-teacher-01MacPhee. MacPhee was supposedly based on Lewis’ tutor early in his life, Kirkpatrick. He is a Scotsman, and highly logical and skeptical about the existence of God and angels throughout the story. He frequently debates with Ransom. I go with Ben Kinglsey for this character.

L99977721-anne-archer-oct-2010-640wGrace Ironwood. Miss Ironwood is a somewhat stern and serious member of the company at St. Anne’s, a psychologist and doctor, and deeply loyal to Ransom. She has a number of significant conversations with Jane about her dreams. I go with Anne Archer.

D7F86ECF-C8F9-5364-EB6B2B4EA726C966Cecil Dimble. Another member of the House at St. Anne’s, Dimble is an academic and particularly interested on the Arthurian legend. Jane was once his student. He is portrayed as a noble, kindly character. For Dimble, I would go with James Cromwell. He has played both good and bad characters well in a number of movies, and I think he would make for a good older academician.

olympia_dukakisMargaret Dimble. “Mother Dimble” is the wife of Cecil Dimble. She is very maternal, and displays much fondness toward Jane, often comforting her when she is in distress. Olympia Dukakis would be my choice.

36th AFI Life Achievement Award - ArrivalsIvy Maggs. Maggs is a maid for Mark and Jane but is driven out of town by the N.I.C.E. and joins the company at St. Anne’s. Her husband is in jail throughout the novel. She tends to be more of a background character. I go with Glenne Headly.

Jack+Davenport+Martini+World+Premiere+Party+-Ubp_id4BnNlArthur Denniston. Denniston is another academic. He was a friend of Mark Studdock when they were younger. He and his wife Camilla are two other important figures at the House at St. Anne’s, and they have several important conversations with Jane. For him I go with Jack Davenport (remember the character Tom in The Talented Mr. Ripley?), who seems like he could play a younger academic well.

Jennifer-Morrison-house-md-573097_1680_1050Camilla Denniston. The wife of Arthur Denniston, she is described as very tall and beautiful. She is the first person Jane meets at St. Anne’s. For her I go with Jennifer Morrison (who plays Dr. Cameron on the show House).

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  1. Thanks for this. I read or listen to this about once each year. Great casting except Hardcastle needs to be younger – Sharon Stone? BTW, in all kinds of media I’ve been noticing an increase in the equatability of humans and animals. Lewis’s picture of the thinking life of Mr. Bultitude in Chapter 14, Part 3 gets the reality of the created order just about right.

  2. Overall, love your choices. Not sure about Ransom–not as I’d pictured him but don’t know who to suggest. I think this would be a challenging book to turn into a movie and do it faithfully. But I agree that in it Lewis makes the same point he does in Abolition of Man, and an important one for our present culture at that.

  3. I’m just past halfway listening through the book. Wow, what a story, and as usual, what surprising insight into human nature and spiritual battle. I keep envisioning the characters and wanting to sketch them out. If ever a movie is made, I hope they consult your ideas here.

  4. I always thought Ewan MacGregor would make a great Ransom. Rosie O’Donnel might make a good Hardcastle, though I suspect she wouldn’t take the role.

  5. I picture Fairy Hardcastle as very like the Iselin lady Angela Lansbury played in The Manchurian Candidate:
    “I keep telling you not to think. You just keep yelling ‘point of order, point of order’ into the camera, and I’ll handle
    the rest.” Her creepy term of endearment for Mark, “sonny,” seems to reinforce this for me. She needs to be like Nurse Ratched, only slightly weirder. Possibly Tracey Ullman?

  6. All good choices except Hardcastle. It would have to be someone large and strong with a dominatrix sort of persona. Someone between the ages of 45 and 55. Not the typical female type cast in Hollywood.

  7. I have never understood why no one has jumped at the chance to make a movie version of this exciting story, especially when there seems to be a vast market for science fiction/fantasy allegorical films.
    However, I’ve never seen this is an American movie, but rather a British period piece, historical inaccuracies be hanged! I think it would play, and given a great script, direction and casting (some of these actor suggestions as well as some from a similar IMDB article), would be a huge hit!