Eleanor Worthington-Cox was only 16 years old when the role of Gwen, the titular character of writer/director William McGregor’s thriller appeared on her radar, and if you ask the young actress, she’ll tell you it was one of the luckiest moments of her life.
Set in the isolated landscape of Northern Wales, Gwen is the story of a young woman who lives with her mother (Maxine Peake) and younger sister (Jodie Innes) on their family farm. As life spins out of control and the local mining company looming over their land, Gwen must step forward and take the lead to save her family and her home.
Worthington-Cox received the script for the film only four to six weeks before shooting began and within the space of two meetings was cast in the role which she calls a dream due to the freedom she was given by McGregor to explore the character.
“It was one of the most unusual jobs I’ve done because while were filming I was able to really create her with Will,” the actress explained in an interview with iHorror. “He spent eight years creating this project and this character. For him to trust me and let me do what I felt was right with the character…that was invaluable.”
That kind of trust was an asset on a project filmed entirely on location dealing with unexpected blizzards and numerous night shoots, but she says that kind of relationship permeated the entire crew and cast as filming progressed.
It especially came in handy with her co-stars.
“Honestly, I can say that it was one of the most rewarding experiences as an actor,” she says of working with Maxine Peake in the role of her mother, Elan. “To tap into that intensity and feel safe in that environment, that’s a rare thing. We managed to forge such a solid working relationship where we had trust and respect for each other so that we could actually deliver something where we had a lot of love underlying all the uncertainty that these characters go through.”
It was young Jodie Innes, however, who became her light through the darkness in a film filled with constantly building dread.
“We had this little six year old on board and she was the most incredible little sister I could have wished to work with,” Worthington-Cox explained. “She’s this little ray of sunshine bouncing around between scenes. It’s hard to feel upset or weighed down by the material when you have that by your side.”
McGregor immersed his cast in the environment of the film, going so far as to find a home that was built in the time period in which Gwen takes place and bringing in crew that was local to the area to repair it and make it “livable.”
“We were in Snowdonia in the wild,” she said. “It really transported us all. When you find yourself in a blizzard at 3 am wearing only a night dress, it not only makes you think about what this young woman would have gone through, but it also makes you appreciate how lucky you are to be able to escape back to a heated room when the scene is finished.”
As I mentioned earlier, the pressures on the character were many. Gwen’s mother falls ill and it’s up to her to take in crops and carry vegetables to market to sell, only to discover that no one will buy from her.
In one pivotal scene, she takes a crucifix hanging on the wall of the home and stares into the fire before finally throwing it into the flames.
“This is the story of a young woman who is keeping her family together despite the pressures of a patriarchal community and a society where it’s almost impossible for someone to have a different belief system,” the actress pointed out. “I think in that moment, Gwen was completely giving up on hope. Her faith, not so much in a God, but in her entire situation had dwindled to nothing at that point in the film.”
Watching Eleanor Worthington-Cox in this role is a bit of a revelation, and it’s not surprising that by the time she was cast as Gwen she’d already earned a BAFTA nomination.
Gwen is out in theaters and available on demand today. Make sure to check out this brilliant young actress in this inspired thriller!