‘Beautiful Enough’ dir. Claire Oakley

A look at the culture of perfection and the lengths one young girl with take to achieve it.

Country: UK
Writer-Director: Claire Oakley
DOP: Rob Hardy
Key Cast: Miffy Englefield

C8: What inspired you to write ‘Beautiful Enough’?

CO: The image of a little girl desperate to change herself in some drastic way was something curious to me for I clearly remember having those desires when I was a kid. Also my favourite story is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; I’m fascinated by the questions it poses about nature and artifice and our desire to perfect and refabricate and for me this film is a very simple exploration of these feelings.

C8: Thematically ‘Beautiful Enough’ is a very dark film that is matched by the cinematography. How closely did you work with directory of photography Rob Hardy?

CO: Rob and I have the luxury of spending a lot of time together and although this was the first time we worked together, we already knew each other’s ideas, aesthetics and intentions intimately. Rob was an integral part of my inspiration, thinking processes and execution and I think the unity of our vision brings a distinct and dramatic atmosphere to this piece. To be honest I can’t imagine working with anybody else! I also want to mention that I worked very closely with dazzling Stephen Lally to create the fairy-tale type of world I was looking for, he was hugely supportive and is such a talent.

C8: The main character, played by Miffy Englefield, is quite young. How old was she when you shot the film and what challenges were presented directing someone of such a young age?

CO: Miffy was nine and there were no real challenges. I thought she’d be horrified by the idea of putting that contraption (made by my Dad) on her face, but she didn’t bat an eyelid (in fact she can do the most bizarre things with her eyelids which she duly offered up to camera!). She’d worked on Casualty and she was in The Holiday so knew the demands of being on a set but nevertheless I was really impressed by how patient and hardworking she was. She was a joy, it’s a shame she doesn’t act anymore but she’s into making films now so watch this space…

C8: How did you go about casting the character of the young girl?

CO: I work with the most fantastic casting director, Olivia Scott-Webb, and we saw about 50 children from various acting schools across London. In the auditions we only discussed the story briefly, instead I invented a small scenario for them to act out that was much more within the realms of their everyday life, and we chatted so I could get to know them and discover whether I could work with them.

C8: The music is instrumental to the tone of the film. Did you have a set piece of music in mind or did you give your composer complete freedom?

CO: The amazing Isobel Waller-Bridge and I had discussions about using a music box type of rhythm and I asked her for a guide track to use whilst we were editing so she whipped up this in a matter of hours and I loved the simplicity and repetition of it and we just ended up using it. She is hugely talented and composes the most beautiful music but for this I liked the raw, unfussy sounds of the guide track, the only changes we made were the addition of the Celeste - we felt the mechanical sound reflected the theme of artificial distortion as the film progressed - and that sorrowful single note on the cello, which was played for us by Ian Pressland.

C8: ‘Beautiful Enough’ leads up to the creation of the horrific mechanical contraption at the end. Was this designed to shock the viewer?

CO: Yes. I wanted it make you feel uncomfortable because although I think that everyone should have the freedom to change themselves in any way they want, it needs to be done for the right reasons and in a considered and safe fashion. What this little girl is doing is not safe and in my opinion she isn’t doing it for the right reasons. As well as wanting us to be uneasy about what she is doing, I wanted to introduce the idea that her desires quite literally take her over, which is why the contraption comes to life as she is creating it.

C8: You wrote, directed and produced the film. Was it difficult keeping these roles separate?

CO: The writing and directing flowed really well. In fact I never wrote anything down, I just storyboarded so it was never really written, just directed. But I won’t produce my own work again unless I absolutely have to.

C8: If you did the whole process again, is there anything you would do differently?

CO: About a million things. And I have been lucky enough to go through the process again with my last short, Physics. That’s the joy of it all, making mistakes and learning from them!

C8: If you could give young filmmakers a piece of advice what would it be?

CO: “Don’t think: try” Well actually do think, its important, but getting out there and actually doing it is what matters.

C8: What is the essence of a good collaboration?

CO: Communication, respect, understanding, trust, time and as much love as you can give.

C8: What’s next? Any plans for the future?

CO: I’m shooting two more shorts this year, which I’m very excited about, and I’ve got a couple of feature scripts bubbling away. Can I tell people to come see my recent short Physics at the Rio in Dalston on the 6th July? Its playing as part of the East End Festival and I can promise it will leave you feeling much more positive than this one!