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Fanny Kemble was a celebrated
actress who disdained the theater. She hobnobbed with royalty, but found their
company tiresome. She vigorously opposed slavery, but did not consider herself
an activist. She affected the course of history, yet never considered her place
in it. Fanny Kemble was a woman born out of her times -- so she helped change
them. Unfortunately, she was married to a man very much of his time, and their
epic clash of wills cost Fanny her marriage, custody of her children, and nearly
Kemble's extraordinary exploits inspired acclaim in the 19th century and two dozen books, but her legacy had dimmed at the approach of the new millennium. So much so that the ENSLAVEMENT husband-wffe producing team of Susan Cooper and Paul Taublieb had never heard of her until they received a treatment from an Illinois college professor.
"I was not familiar with Fanny Kemble, and was utterly thrilled to learn about her," says Taublieb. "She lived in disparate worlds and had enormous impact on both. Susan and I were amazed that her story had never been told on film." Cooper comments, "She was a remarkable woman who possessed enough righteous indignation to take a stand and make a differences Screenwriter Christopher Lofton, the first and only writer Taublieb and Cooper sought to capture Kemble's story, states that Fanny was an utterly determined and fearless person. Says Lofton, "There was an instance where Fanny prepared for a horseback ride and was warned against riding a particularly spirited stallion. She retorted, 'I'm not afraid of him; he's afraid of me."'
Kemble's courage led her to risk her well-being to improve the slaves' envirorunent and even help some of them escape from her husband's plantation. Such audacity pushed Pierce Butler to the point where he meted out the same punishment to his wife that he gave to his captives. "I never really understood slavery until I felt the whip on my back," Kemble stated in one of the many letters she wrote to her best friend in England.
And Pierce Butler never really understood Fanny Kemble.
"They had a remarkably complex relationship," explains director James Keach, who also plays the role of a doctor sympathetic to Fanny's beliefs. "Fanny was a firebrand, very strong-willed, and she refused to become the 'property' of a man, which was the accepted status of a wife in that era. Pierce loved her, but wanted to conquer her. He simply couldn't."
Keach and Jane Seymour, partners in marriage and their own production company, were enamored with Lofton's script and helped develop the project for three years preceding its start of principal photography. "Chris wrote a marvelous screenplay. The language is absolutely spectacular," comments Jane Seymour. "He's incorporated many of Fanny's quotes and mannered speech into the script and fully captured the essence of her life. Kemble was a great actress who was quite spoiled in some ways, and very opinionated. What reallv appealed to me is the transition she undergoes, from pampered star to courageous activist. She wanted to make a difference in the world, and she did."
It is tempting to assume that Pierce Butler would be the typical villain in the telling of this story, but it is his well-rounded and objective characterization that piqued the interest of Keith Carradine. "Pierce is a man who didn't have the resolve or sensitivity to understand the ramifications of his actions," says Carradine. "He was not evil, nor was he enlightened. He simply accepted the facts of life as they were at that time. Suddenly, he inherits this large plantation, and undertakes to run it in the practiced manner of the day. It was an enormous responsibility, and, with it, the chance to do something good and noble. But, through a lack of vision or courage, he failed. The undoli-ig of this character is tragic and pitiful because of that lost opportunity."
Seymour agrees, "Pierce was in some sense a slave to his own culture. The plantation was handed down to him with a heavy burden of family tradition. He found himself trapped by the task, just as Fanny was trapped by her marriage."
As a period piece, the film required an enormous quantity of vintage clothing. Costume designer Cheri Ingle, who previously worked with Jane Seymour on "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," created nearly 400 costumes, including 49 for Seymour alone. Ingle purchased many of her clothes from Angels in London, and did a substantial amount of shopping for collars, shawls, coats and jewelry from various antique stores in Bath, England and Toronto.
"Jane and I combined our personal jewelry collections for her to wear in the film, and she goes through a substantial amount of costume changes," says Ingle. "Even when toiling on the plantation, Kemble took care to dress nicely. She was, after all, still British."
Production was completed on ENSLAVEMENT on August 18th, 1999 with the final day's shooting occurring on a soundstage -- the only day's work not shot on location.
Remarks producer Paul Taublieb, "This film is a love story set against what I consider to be the American holocaust. And it's told from the perspective of a extraordinary woman who was not just willing, but compelled, to risk everything she had to bring it to an end."
James Keach adds, "Fanny was an upper-class white woman who identified her own enslavement with the plight of black people and understood that no one, regardless of gender, color or religion, should be subjugated. To even speak out against a husband, much less get divorced, was unheard of in that time. She did it because she was detern-dned to break free of her chains and help others do the same."
For Jane Seymour, playing a British actress from another era had obvious appeal. But the reason she identified so strongly with Kemble struck a much deeper chord.
"I remember a long time ago feeling there has to be more to life than being in the movies and on television. So I tried to bring more into my life with a fancily and charitable causes. Fanny Kemble must have experienced that same longing, to involve her life in something more than the theater. So she took a giant leap into another country, another culture, a place that must have seemed like another world. It took great courage. This is a story of someone who had the will to make a differences.