We find the siblings - Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and their younger haemophiliac brother, Alexei - in Bethany’s “House of special Purpose”, an interpretation of the merchant’s house in Yekaterinburg where their execution is rumoured to have taken place. A romantic retelling of their final days, the film invites us get to know the siblings, both as a family unit, but also through Bethany’s eye as a director which gives us an imagined view into the sibling’s lives and personalities.
Bethany tells us she has always been fascinated by the Romanovs. It was an important story for her to develop; “It felt relevant to explore the theme of women that were in captivity or entrapment, but what is interesting about the Romanov siblings is that they all have this desire for freedom and that they had previously lived such grand lives”.
“We were trying to go for this one take kind of feel. It was all shot on steadicam which I don’t work with a lot so it was interesting to explore that kind of look in that story because it feels quite theatrical, with the camera movement” describes Bethany, who most definitely deserves more of an introduction...
Born in Mississippi, actor, director and writer Jaclyn Bethany is a rising star of the film world. Moving to New York to pursue acting, Bethany started out directing for the stage, which she continues to do, but just like any other creative’s career trajectory, things changed quickly as her multifaceted skillset was utilised in various other projects... The promotion for her first short ‘Olivia Martha Ilse’ (2015) “was sort of my introduction to the film world”. In which Bethany wrote, produced and acted - alongside Emmy and Golden Globe award winning, Tammy Blanchard no less - but she didn’t direct as on reflection “I felt like I didn’t have the experience”.
It was on the festival circuit that Bethany applied to the London Film School for screenwriting “on a whim”. Marking the beginning of her formal education in all things behind the camera. “It was a year long process and was where I met all of the collaborators that I’m still working with today”, the same collaborators with whom she is now directing a feature film ‘Indigo Valley’, that is set to shoot in summer 2018 starring Harry Potter favourite, Evanna Lynch.
Collaboration is the cornerstone of Bethany’s filmmaking process and one of the main reasons she enjoys roles behind the camera. It’s also something that she finds important to exemplify in front of the camera as well, certainly evident in the casting process for ‘The Last Birthday’.
The women starring in ‘The Last Birthday’ are all hyphenated career girls with bags full of experience in different creative endeavours. “I’m attracted to people who are super calm, proactive, and have multiple skills… I love being surrounded by people who are inspiring to me.”
The cast stars all British actors, Anna Popplewell, Jazzy De Lisser, Greta Bellamacina and Fern Bain Smith, with expertise ranging from the worlds of poetry to modelling. It is no wonder with this creative foundation the cast have such an effortless sisterly bond. As director, Bethany was keen to explore sibling relationships, a long term fascination which is partly rooted in being an only child, “I think I’m really interested in behaviour and how groups of girls act when they’re around one another. I don’t think we really see that, I think we often just see male - female relationships.”
Which is something that is likely to change as female talent, like Bethany, emerge into more mainstream channels of filmmaking. “I think the change is going to take a while… I guess because there’s been this lack of women behind the camera for so long”. But as Bethany mentions, “filmmaking is an art that you can’t do without collaboration”, and successful collaboration is non-discriminant of what gender you are.
‘The Last Birthday’ may focus on the last moments of the Romanov’s, but it is definitely not the last we’ll be seeing of Jaclyn Bethany.
By Kezia Navey for Semaine.