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There's Something About Lily


Lily James has thoroughly annexed her corner of the space for young movie stars, and there's very little chance she'll be slowing down any time soon. She has the mark of a star, and if she manages to keep up the string of good choices she's been able to make for years now, we can only expect to see her become a household name.

Lily's mother was an actress, and having attended a few performing arts schools, and clinching management shortly thereafter, she seemed poised to do well from the start. Her work on stage and in TV, as a key player in Downton Abbey, for instance, gives us some early insight into her draw, but let's face it, she's a movie star, and that's what we'll be looking at here. What is Lily James to the movies, and what will she be?

Well, following some solid work and minor roles, her big break tells us a great deal about the quality James gives off; she was launched to stardom after being cast as the lead in Disney reboot Cinderella. A Disney princess is a few things. Stunningly beautiful, but in a full-cheeked, youthful way (less sculpted). Likeable, with an obviously kind soul and innocent demeanor. And a joy, practically an inspiration to everyone around her (save for the villains). It was great casting. Lily James has the graceful beauty of movie legends like Ingrid Bergman, capable of convincing an audience that a character could fall in love with her or be swayed simply because of her presence, no further explanation required. She is immediately pure-hearted, with beaming doe eyes, which in turn seem so vulnerable when they widen in childlike fright, or well up with tears. James is cast so consistently because she arrests us into caring for her character with such ease. And, after marking herself out as such a valuable asset, she experienced an unbelievably quick ascent to several major subsequent productions.

There's Something About Lily James

Baby Driver, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Darkest Hour, these were huge roles, but the productions all played on the same ‘good-naturedness' James brings time and time again. In Baby Driver, the romance is downplayed in the plot, but suffice it to say: the girl is Lily James, of course the getaway driving protagonist falls in love and drifts closer to the goodness within him personified by her. In the sequel to Mamma Mia, a plain of reality so very divorced from cruelty and malice, she was the answer to: Who could play a young Donna, lifting the prequel sections of the film, telling a story we already know the end to, from going through the motions to effortless charm? And unlike some Pierce Brosnan shaped holes of key and rhythm, Lily James had infectious timing and spirit. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies she was at least able to kick some ass and serve as a role model to young girls, one who is independent and strong-willed, but still a young woman of her time, frustrated with herself for caring about silly romances and what a rude man thinks of her. Altogether, still cast because little girls would see themselves in her. Similarly, in Darkest Hour she is Elizabeth Layton, the chipper, go-getter foil to the curmudgeonly Winston Churchill, the only woman allowed in the map room. Once again, she's the in, the (relative) outsider getting to see the real Churchill behind the legend, as the audience is.

But on that note, you may be sensing a crushing familiarity between most of her roles. And you wouldn't be alone, James herself has expressed frustration with being typecast: “I've just had this feeling that I can't get rid of recently—and sometimes what you think is right for you is total nonsense anyway—that I've wanted to step away from playing characters that feel quite honest and open," she said. "There's a goodness to them that I want to get away from."

We should be excited by this prospect. How many times has an actress had the ability to step outside of her designated box, to stunning results? The industry liked to play a puerile game, drawing a line between the prestigious, reputable actors of note, the Viola Davis', Frances McDormands, et al., and the ‘movie stars' (who shall remain nameless). The line blurs more and more each day. The biggest name right now is probably Anya Taylor Joy, a massive talent who hops from practically independent productions like Thoroughbreds to world-gripping Netflix mini-series like The Queen's Gambit. And, if she has any say in it, this way lies Lily James.

Working with Ben Wheatly, she enters Rebecca the archetypal Lily James character, and through 83 year old spoilers, leaves a conniving but dutiful accomplice. Then a pivot back, as the neglected and bookish Peggy Piggot in The Dig, again for Netflix. These weren't quite the resounding success she was looking for, but that may well be fast approaching. James has jumped ship to Hulu, who've cast her, as you certainly already know considering this is the biggest casting news in some time, as Pamela Anderson in the upcoming limited series Pam and Tommy. If you aren't aware of who Pamela Anderson is, maybe stick around for the show, but it should be said Pamela would be new territory for James.

There's already some controversy surrounding the series, and James specifically; Pamela Anderson is, per a friend of hers, not happy with the attitude the script is approaching her and her relationship to Tommy Lee with, and hilariously isn't pleased with the choice of Lily James to embody her, because Anderson doesn't know who she is. Regardless, it's a fantastic opportunity for James to expand the scope of her talents, and the likeness is uncanny to say the least. We can only hope the show delivers.