JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
British filmmaker Sally Potter gained worldwide attention with her 1992 film "Orlando." Like all of her movies, it was unconventional in its story and structure. Her new film, "Ginger & Rosa," is more realistic and direct. It's also got a high-profile cast that includes Annette Bening, Oliver Platt and Elle Fanning. But the film strikes a bit closer to home for the director. It's set in Britain during the Cold War. Pat Dowell has more.
PAT DOWELL, BYLINE: A nuclear explosion fills the screen at the beginning of Sally Potter's new film. The director says she was haunted by that image as a girl and took part in the British demonstrations to ban the bomb that she recreates in her film.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "GINGER & ROSA")
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (as Characters) Ban that bomb. Ban that bomb.
ANNETTE BENING: (as Bella) Ginger.
ELLE FANNING: (as Ginger) Yes, it's me.
BENING: (as Bella) Are you all right?
FANNING: (as Ginger) Yeah.
SALLY POTTER: I think the first ban-the-bomb march from Aldermaston missile base to London I went on with my younger brother and my mother. These marches were very popular, and there are many people of all generations in them; they were family affairs.
DOWELL: The relationships between parents and children figure prominently in "Ginger & Rosa," but Potter says the film's not really autobiographical. Rather, she wanted to dramatize the connection between the personal and the political.
POTTER: To make a link between the kind of crises and real difficulties that people face and experience most vividly in their personal life with global crises that sometimes seem very far away and impossible even to connect with.
DOWELL: The crises closer to home in the film run from best friends Ginger and Rosa trying to figure out what to do with their lives to coping with their parents' separation and divorce.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "GINGER & ROSA")
CHRISTINA HENDRICKS: (as Natalie) Listen to me. I just didn't want you to struggle like I did.
FANNING: (as Ginger) But I'm never going to have any babies. Never. I don't want to be like you, so bugger off.
DOWELL: Filmmaker Potter often focuses her camera on the relationships between women, and that's true of "Ginger & Rosa" too. And despite claims that it's not autobiographical, Potter had Elle Fanning, who plays Ginger, dye her blonde hair red like Potter's. Fanning was 13 when she made the film, Potter's age at her first ban-the-bomb march. Fanning says she owes a lot to Potter sharing memories of life at that time and that age.
FANNING: She went on the marches when she was young, so she had a lot of pictures from that and, for sure, she drew on sort of experiences. And also, she was a teenage girl, so, you know, at one time, so she knows what that's like, to have a best friend and to have that sort of secret language, you know? And so she knows what it's like to grow up, sort of trying to find your way when you're young.
DOWELL: But this film proceeds in a different way from Potter's past work. "Orlando," for instance, featured actors talking straight into the camera. Potter's cross-cultural love story, "Yes," had the actors delivering their lines in iambic pentameter, and "Rage" consisted entirely of dramatic monologues, staged to look like interviews on a cellphone camera. The film was even released on the iPhone. Potter says "Ginger & Rosa's" more conventional storytelling was a deliberate strategy.
POTTER: It's always a good principle to reinvent and to be prepared to throw away the things that you cling to as being your identity. And I don't just mean this in films. I mean this in life. You know, we're not a set of habits. And, I think, sometimes, to return to kind of first principles of pure intention and be prepared to throw away your signature, if you like, can be incredibly liberating. It's quite terrifying but very liberating too. And in that way, one finds new things to do, you know, not just falling back on old things.
DOWELL: And this time, the new thing to do was something old, says poet and critic Sophie Mayer, author of a book on Potter's films. "Ginger & Rosa," she says, recalls the realist style that swept onto the British stage and screen in the period this film depicts.
SOPHIE MAYER: It seems very familiar to us now, but at the time, it was a huge shock to depict people in their kitchens. You know, we use the phrase kitchen sink drama to dismiss things. But up until that point, people hadn't been seen in their kitchens. There was no consciousness in film of that kind of domestic life.
DOWELL: And no consciousness of the politics of domestic life - the silent suffering for women such as Ginger's mother in the film. It's the silence of that generation of women who, in 1962, could not know they were on the cusp of feminism's reawakening. And it was on Sally Potter's mind as she wrote the script for "Ginger & Rosa."
POTTER: When my mother died in 2010, I remembered - in a way painfully - the struggles of her and the women of her generation and experienced them as these kind of silent partners in the beginning of the time of change in the '60s - women who, in many ways, were sacrificed for that change.
DOWELL: A sacrifice Sally Potter acknowledges at the end of "Ginger & Rosa" with a dedication to her mother. For NPR News, this is Pat Dowell.