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I t is September The decor is Soviet drab meets midcentury modern in shades of tobacco, with wood-panelled walls and a huge desk. Winstone is nowhere to be seen, but a dozen or so badass female assassins in black stand in a circle around his desk; on cue, they jump back. The mood is intense, hear-a-pin-drop silent; then, a disembodied voice pipes up over the sound system, softly spoken, with an Australian accent.
It is the director, Cate Shortland. The voice you expect to hear — usually an assistant director — is male, bellowing commands like a drill sergeant.
Ever since the character first appeared 11 years ago in Iron Man 2, fans have been asking for a standalone spin-off. In truth, Natasha has been a thinly sketched character in the franchise. She might have been thinking about the scene in which she changed into her superhero togs in the back of a car for no other reason, it would seem, than to give a glimpse of her bra.
Or perhaps it was the moment a few minutes earlier when the camera leered at her bottom like a teenage boy as she got out of a limo.
There is none of that in Black Widow, shot through the gaze of Shortland, who was picked by studio bosses over 70 other directors after a search lasting a year and a half. Shortland ly directed three indie filmsbeginning with Somersault in When she took on the job, she watched all the Black Widow films back to back, looking at how the character moved and what she wore.
Her intention was to strip that all away. Shortland says she tried to keep in one sexy Johansson scene. She got off the bed and she was in just in a pair of undies and a T-shirt. Being in control is precisely what Black Widow is about. A blast from the past drags Natasha back into her early life as assassin in the Red Room, a trafficking organisation that kidnaps girls and trains them up as killers — they are the black widows.
In one grim scene, Dreykov explains that girls are a natural resource: there is an endless supply of them to exploit. The child widows are brainwashed, taught to fight and forcibly sterilised. But she uses her intelligence, her training. In the film, Natasha hooks up with a non-biological family unit from a mission in her past. This trio of women take on the man who subjugated and oppressed them. It is not about one woman kicking butt to take down a patriarchal system, but a group of women, more powerful together. Is it a direct comment on MeToo, I ask Shortland.
Florence just speaks out.
Her generation just speaks out. Even Scarlett Johansson has felt that. She does speak to the younger generation. Shortland is the last low-budget indie film-maker I would have predicted flipping to make a megamillion-dollar movie. She moved to South Africa, where her husband, the director and screenwriter Tony Krawitz, was working on a script and where the couple adopted their two. That makes me want to speak more. Johansson, a big admirer of Lore, reportedly played a key role in persuading Shortland to take the Black Widow gig — and thus in her becoming the first solo female director of a Marvel film.
Shortland sounds shaken when I bring it up. It just made us feel really inspired. It is a film with a bit of a Bourne conspiracy-thriller feel, location-hopping from Norway to Budapest to Morocco, and never takes off into space. Shortland tells me she asked for the action scenes to feel truthful. And so moments like that, when the audience is allowed in and they identify with her, they put themselves in her position.
What were her biggest fears in taking on the job? Because they hate bullshit. Speaking to Shortland takes me back to that moment on set: hearing her soft-spoken voice in the ether. I ask her if anyone has mistaken that gentleness for a lack of authority. What Shortland found difficult at Pinewood was the male-to-female ratio. Scarlett and I both felt it.
On set, sometimes there would be two of us and or men. What difference did it make being outed? After a while, that did get quite wearing. I read an interview from a few years ago in which she said that the best advice she had been given was to leave tears at home. On the set of Black Widow, her tactic was to stay focused. They were close to finishing the film when the pandemic hit. Shortland finished the edit in her front room in LA on a desk she pulled out of the garage. Her husband had bagsied the study and her year-old daughter was working in the kitchen. Fri 2 Jul Black Widow review — Scarlett Johansson, the Russian super spy with an electra complex.
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