The British actress Kristin Scott Thomas has won ecstatic advance reviews in the Parisian press for her first frontline performance in classical French drama, playing the title role of the Racine tragedy Bérénice.
The role of Bérénice – a Jewish queen who falls in love with a Roman emperor – is one of the great female roles in the French classical repertoire. The casting of Scott Thomas is equivalent to a prominent French actress taking the role of Lady Macbeth or Desdemona for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
"She plays a queen and what a queen," said Le Figaro. "Kristin Scott Thomas has the fibre of an aristocrat. Not that of a lady drinking tea with her little finger in the air but with a mixture of casualness, fantasy and chic, someone who can appear beautiful or ugly ... as the mood takes her."
Although the main run of the show begins tonight at the Avignon theatre festival, Scott Thomas, 41 – best known for her movie appearances in The English Patient and The Horse Whisperer – has been lauded for her four preview performances in Perpignan.
Le Journal du Dimanche said that her "small trace of an English accent" brought to the role the "poetic otherness" that was sought by Jean Racine when he wrote Bérénice in 1670.
Kristin Scott Thomas, born in Cornwall, is married to a French doctor and lives in Paris with their three children. She was trained as an actor partly in Paris and speaks flawless French.
She told Le Journal du Dimanche that she may have found "the sublime language" of Racine easier to speak than French actors, because the occasionally bizarre, grammatical constructions did not bother her.
Scott-Thomas said that, as an exile herself, it appealed to her to play someone who "belonged only to herself. But what I love most of all is the extremity of the emotions, of sadness, of solitude, of abandonment, of passionate love and renunciation."
After the Avignon festival the play will tour France until February.
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