Our Office Manager takes on the character of the legendary writer in a new BBC film by Sally Wainwright
Finn Atkins, 27, is widely known in the Dazed offices as Office Manager. However, the British public will more likely recognise her as Charlotte Brontë after her starring role in Sally Wainwright’s To Walk Invisible – a new look at the life of the three Brontë sisters and their brother Branwell.
The BBC film, which aired on 29 December, tells the story of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë from putting pen to paper to publishing some of English literature’s greatest novels. Starring alongside Jonathan Pryce, Atkins takes on her first period piece for television, in this moving drama about the family’s everyday lives in Yorkshire.
So how did you get into acting?
Finn Atkins: I started acting when I was eight, I went to the Television Workshop in Nottingham, which is where a lot of the This is England guys and quite a lot of the young talent at the minute has come from. So, I started off there and then when I was 18 I got my agent off the back of a film I did called Eden Lake and, yeah, I’ve just been acting since then.
How did you find taking on such a big story, was it a challenge for you?
Finn Atkins: I think the main challenge came from the fact that a lot of people hold these characters really dear to their heart so you have to make sure that you are doing their story justice. Also they are not just characters, they are actual people, that’s what you’ve got to remember, so there is the added pressure of trying to nail all their little quirks.
The reception of it seems to have been really good so far, how have you found that, I saw you retweeting Caitlin Moran…
Finn Atkins: Yeah it’s amazing, so good to see that. I love Caitlin Moran as well, so it's really nice to actually see people that you really look up to and respect actually watching the show and thinking so highly of it. Even though I’d seen it like four times before it was on telly there is no feeling like passing it over for everyone else to watch. It was quite nervewracking, but that’s the buzz I get from acting so it was good.
“I actually really revelled in being outdoors and not being in London for a little bit because the scenery and the landscape was so gorgeous” – Finn Atkins
How did you prep for the role?
Finn Atkins: We had a Brontë boot camp before we started where Sally Wainwright got me and the other siblings together in a house for a week. We had calligraphy lessons, we walked on the moors and got familiar with the landscape and where the family lived. I read as much as I could but I only had a set amount of time and it would have just been physically impossible to read all of their literature and biographical stuff as well. We had a literary advisor who put stuff in an order of what would be more useful for us to read. Obviously, it was really important for me to have read Charlotte’s novels and then she would have read Emily’s (Wuthering Heights) and Anne’s (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) as well.
Did you know much about the Brontë literature before you took the part?
Finn Atkins: No, not at all, I had studied them a little bit at school but that was literally as far as my Brontë knowledge went. One of the things I’ll take away from playing this role is being introduced or reintroduced to their life and their story. That was something I didn’t know too much about and it’s really inspiring. Would I have picked up their novels again in my lifetime? I don’t know, maybe not, it’s not really the sort of thing that I would normally read. But I’m so glad that I’ve had to for this because I love their work.
It must have been amazing reading the books in the place that they were written…
Finn Atkins: So I started reading some of them while I was in London. But reading their novels when we were there having costume fittings and we were actually in the moors where they used to walk, around Ponden Kirk in Yorkshire, it was like being transported back in time, it was really weird.
So why do you think the story resonates so well now?
Finn Atkins: I think it’s the thing of the three girls in Yorkshire, completely unsuspecting, that just produced these legendary pieces of work that are still remembered now. The idea that whatever you are put up against you can still do amazing things – I think that is something that everyone can relate to. They had an alcoholic brother and their general living conditions and their setting was so much more difficult to contend with than what we have now, yet they still managed to get their work out. You know, we have social media now and it’s obviously a lot easier but they were up against so much more.
It’s obviously amazing for women as well because they used these male pseudonyms, well these gender-neutral pseudonyms, because that’s what they had to do to write. They had so much passion and dedication that they carried on and wrote under those names. I think that a lot of people would respect their story and their situation and what they did for women.
”The main challenge came from the fact that a lot of people hold these characters really dear to their heart so you have to make sure that you are doing their story justice“ – Finn Atkins
Do you think you have learnt some things from Charlotte through playing her?
Finn Atkins: Well, she’s a really bossy character. We were actually the same height. She was 4”10 and I’m 4”10 as well, so I think maybe I’ve learnt that even if you are small you can be quite mighty.
You’re the Office Manager here at Dazed, it must have been a strange transition to the Yorkshire moors, how did you find that?
Finn Atkins: Yeah, it is a bit of a contrast. I actually really revelled in being outdoors and not being in London for a little bit because the scenery and the landscape was so gorgeous. London is a proper concrete jungle so I just made the most of it. I also love working at Dazed. It makes me appreciate when I go and do acting work but also when I come back I need to be kept active so it’s really good for me.
And finally, favourite films from 2016?
Finn Atkins: My favourite films from last year were I, Daniel Blake and American Honey. In general I love Moonrise Kingdom, Leon – Natalie Portman fuelled my love for acting in this – and The Scouting Book for Boys as Jack Thorne is one of my favourite writers and Holliday Grainger gives the most honest, gorgeous performance.
You can watch the film on iPlayer here.