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Tilda Swinton on “The Chronicles of Narnia”, 2005 – Out of the Archives

Tilda Swinton stars with Idris Elba in Three Thousand Years of Longing, directed by George Miller, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and is opening in theaters on August 26.
The three-time Golden Globe nominee spoke to the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press in 2005 about playing the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, from the 1950 novel by C.S. Lewis, and the repercussions of war on children.
The Scottish actress had not read The Chronicles of Narnia series by British writer C.S. Lewis when the director asked her to play the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: “I’m an infidel, I was brought up without Narnia. The world is divided between those who got it as a child and those who didn’t, and I didn’t, so maybe I was the poorer for it. Fortunately, I now know Narnia, but I am actually quite glad that I didn’t get it as a child, because, when Andrew Adamson asked me to make the film, I only had the script that he presented me with, and it felt absolutely clear to me. I didn’t have any fantasies of my own about it, and I related to it in a different way, because I didn’t have the ideas in my head that most children do. It’s very difficult when you’re making a film that’s based on someone’s favorite book, because the relationship you have with the book is so personal, and when you make a film, you’re actually having to contravene your personal ideas.”
Swinton was asked to compare the character of Angel Gabriel, whom she played in Constantine, with the White Witch: “They’re different stories and different constructs, but I actually was shooting Constantine at the same time as I agreed to make Narnia, and that prepared me for the decision because it really tickled my sense of humor to start the year with the Angel Gabriel and to end it with the epitome of all evil. Neither of them is human, but Angel Gabriel is very warm, and the White Witch is built out of coldness, so there’s a difference, but they’re similar in that they’re both sociopathic killers and they believe that what they want is right, which, of course, is a dangerous thing to be. Certainly, if you’re going to be a leader, it’s very dangerous to dress yourself up in doubtless righteousness, because doubtlessness is what gets us into the scrapes that we’re in at the moment politically, that absolute lack of human compassion and of the possibility of having any doubt in one’s course is problematic. So I was interested in showing that with both characters.”
Echoing what would happen six decades later in Ukraine after the Russian invasion, the four children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe were evacuated from London to the countryside after surviving an air raid during World War II. This story seemed relevant to Swinton in 2005: “A very important reason why I was so delighted to be asked to make this film was that it’s extraordinarily relevant to make this film now. This is a story about war children, and one of the very first sequences in the film leaves us in no doubt that these children are not sent away to stay with the professor, they are evacuated from being bombed out in the blitz. And the reason is that this is very important because all of our children, whether they are exposed to media footage or not, are war children now, and who knows what they absorb. It’s hard enough for us as voting adults to feel the powerlessness that we all feel these days with what’s going on in the world and decisions that are being taken in our name but imagine what it must be like to be a child and feeling that powerlessness. For these children, their father is away at war and their mother does this extraordinarily contentious thing, she ties luggage labels onto their coats and sends them off on a train to stay with strangers, which is for their own good, but how do children really know that on an emotional level? They are in this really tough situation and in a parentless world.”
The actress, whose twin children were seven years old at the time, understood the importance of fairytales: “Beyond almost anything, they are incredibly important for young children. It was one of the reasons why I felt so blessed when Andrew asked me to make this film with him, because my children, who are now seven, were six, so I’m in that blessed zone where I read fairy stories and myths every night to my children and that world is a wonderful place to live in. And parents go through it too, every night there’s a new myth and it’s like playing cards, you use it to cut your daily experience on, whatever you have been dealing with that day you will use it to filter your material worldly mortal experience through. So fairytales are good for adults too and I’m the blessed receiver of that at the moment, but for children of a particular age they are essential.” 
Swinton expressed her admiration for C.S. Lewis, despite the fact that he was a religious writer, and an Anglican theologian: “C.S. Lewis is a well-known writer and a devout Christian, but it would be an insult to him as a writer to pretend that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a religious tract because he’s perfectly capable of writing right-on religious tracts that are not as imaginary as Narnia. He was a classical scholar, and he knew what he was doing, he was creating new myths, which not everybody can do, and you need to know what those classical myths are before you start to try and mess with them. That’s why I actually believe that what he’s done here is so much wider than writing anything as simple as a religious tract. He has tapped into something that everybody can join in on, which is the unconscious and the idea of how do we live in this world, whatever we believe in, what are the things that we have to encounter, and even when we’re children, the epitome of good and the epitome of evil, wherever we come from, whatever culture we’re brought up in, means something. It’s not just Christian mythology or Islamic mythology or whatever else, all human beings need to think and feel their way into what they believe is good and evil.”
Swinton explained the healing power of the fantasy world of Narnia: “Andrew Adamson will tell you that Narnia exists, and I am sure he’s right. On the other hand, there’s another possibility, which is just as fabulous, which is that the imagination of children can heal situations for them just as the imagination of adults, if they choose to actually tap into it, can heal their material world for them too. So you go through the back of a wardrobe and create for oneself a magical land in which the only way that good can triumph over evil is in your hands, but there are no parents there, there are no decisions that are going to be made out of your hands, you are the ones who are going to be crowned kings and queens and you’re the only ones who can actually bring things to bear. I think it’s the most beautiful story of healing and it’s a wonderful message for our children now to see that they hold the future in their hands, and they need to know that, if they want their future world to be different, then they have the power to make it so. So that’s wonderfully relevant film to make right now.”