french suspense

Meet Fionn Whitehead, the Lead of Christopher Nolan’s Highly Anticipated Battle Epic ‘Dunkirk’

Bale. DiCaprio. McConaughey. And now, Fionn Whitehead.

The 19-year-old Brit (whose Irish first name is pronounced “Finn”) joins elite ranks as the lead actor in a Christopher Nolan joint, headlining the acclaimed filmmaker’s upcoming ensemble war, Dunkirk.

At this point Whitehead doesn’t have clearance to say anything about his character, Tommy. But if you happened to catch the intense seven-minute tease Warner Bros. unspooled on Imax screens in front of Rogue One, you’ll recognize him as one of the two poor chaps charged with hauling a stretcher over a decimated dock as enemy warplanes whiz by overhead. (While plot details on the film are also scant, we have WWII history to tell us the film is about the 1940 rescue of Allied soldiers cornered by the German army on a French beach.)

“It’s a suspense thriller,” Whitehead told Yahoo Movies. “It takes you there and you see this world through my character’s eyes and ears. And it kind of explores what it would’ve been like to be there at that time, on sea, land, and air. It’s all about survival, and the human urge to survive.” Whitehead was in Los Angeles this week where we got to know the fresh-faced star of Nolan’s fiercely intense-looking battle film. Here’s what we learned:

Dunkirk will mark Whitehead’s movie debut. The actor, who grew up in an artistic household (his dad is jazz musician Tim Whitehead) on the southwest edge of London in Richmond, performed on stage at the National Youth Theatre and Orange Tree Theatre, and was in the process of applying to drama school when he booked the lead role in Him, a three-part U.K. miniseries about a teen with supernatural powers. The casting director for Him referred Whitehead to agent Sophie Holden, who put him in contention for Dunkirk.

His hair almost got in the way of his dream role. Whitehead auditioned for Dunkirk over an extensive three-month period, with Nolan present at every tryout after the first. “For Him, they made me grow my hair out, and then they’d straighten it out every day because I’ve got quite curly hair when it grows out,” Whitehead explained. “And I remember turning up to do one of these auditions and I had this straight long hair, it just looked so ridiculous. And they’re like, ‘Um, Chris has asked if you could push your hair out of your face this audition.’ So they gave me a tub of wax and I’m slicking my hair out of my face in this ridiculous fashion.”

He was put through the ringer before production even started. “I was quite scrawny when I started out, so they saw that and realized that they might injure me in the whole process of shooting,” Whitehead laughed. So the upstart was dispatched to Dunkirk (where the majority of filming would be completed on location) two weeks early to work with the stunt team. Along with costars Harry Styles and Aneurin Barnard, Whitehead was put through a boot camp of sorts. “I did a lot of circuit training, did a little bit of boxing, did some weapons training. Then I went to the beaches and I was swimming in full war gear, which once it got waterlogged was about 60, 80 pounds. Running up the beach with stretchers with weighted dummies on them. It was quite a lot.”

Speaking of Mr. Styles… The One Direction singer also makes his film debut in Dunkirk, and Whitehead had nothing but props for the pop star-turned-actor. “He’s a lovely guy. Really hard working. There was no preferential treatment, and he didn’t ask for any. He was just a great asset to the team, one of the crew, no differentiation.”

The grueling shoot put things in perspective for the young actors. “Physically it was quite demanding,” Whitehead said of the five-month production. “So the toughest part was just keeping the energy up. Every night, as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out… But that made it easier to step into the shoes of these people, knowing what they had to deal with and how they kept going.” Despite somber subject material, the cast tried to keep things light by riding bikes around set and playing the occasional game of rugby. They also learned quickly, though, not to pull any woe-is-me moves. “Any time any of us complained, somebody would say, ‘Well, at least you’re not actually there.’ And then everyone would feel so guilty and be like, ‘Oh yeah, sorry. I’m just going to crawl into a hole.'”

Whitehead abstained from fanning out over Nolan. Make no mistake, the actor was over the moon to work with the director of Memento, the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar. “He’s so present as a director,” Whitehead said. “He’s behind every shot and he creates this family-like vibe on set which really puts you at ease. It’s a very collaborative environment. I was quite apprehensive going in but that was gone straightaway because you’re in this safe space where you feel comfortable to try different things, and encouraged.” But he made it a point not to geek out over the filmmaker. “Nah, I kept it in,” he said. “I tried to play it cool.”

to protest the french suspension of syrian parliament in 1934 a group of women led a march that started at the umayyad mosque and ended with the women stoning the french police. charged with disturbing the peace and assaulting police officers, the women were ordered to unveil to be identified but they refused and given that the french didn’t issue id cards to syrian women there was no way to identify them for further punishment beyond the obligatory jail time and fines. an early demonstration of masking up.

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DIABOLIQUE (1955)
A cruel man’s wife and lover plot to kill him.

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Identifying historical romances set outside the British Isles or North America can be a bit of a chore. Here I’ve put together a batch of stories located in one of my favourite countries, France.

Asterisks denote romances set partially (*) or mostly/entirely (**) in continental France as defined by its current borders, including Provence, Languedoc, etc.. Standard warnings apply to some of the older titles. As for diversity, a regrettable consequence of being a little-used geographical setting is that diverse characters remain rare even as boundaries have expanded elsewhere in the genre.


Night Fires by Karen Harbaugh **. French Revolution. Vampires with a unique twist, redemption.

Whisper His Name by Elizabeth Thornton *. Regency. Heroine opens book business, scholarly hero has secret profession, light suspense.

A Wheel of Stars by Laura Gilmour Bennett **. Medieval / Timeslip. Templars, Cathars, Inquisition, troubadours.

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase *. Regency. Forced marriage, heroine-as-saviour, rakehell hero, clever repartee, perennial romance reader favourite.

The Last Arrow by Marsha Canham **. Medieval. Heroine is a skilled archer, swashbuckling adventure, Robin Hood & King John.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig *. Regency / Contemporary. First in the Pink Carnation series. The dual narrative framework alternates between Eloise, a modern scholar researching “that demmed, elusive Pimpernel”, and British spies romping about in Napoleonic France.

Wicked Becomes You by Meredith Duran **. Victorian / Belle Époque. Jilted bride decides to ditch nice girl image, black sheep hero, road trip.

The Making of a Duchess by Shana Galen *. Georgian / First French Republic. First in a trilogy about French brothers. Governess, spies, rescue mission.

Storm Winds by Iris Johansen **. French Revolution. Dark suspense, graphic violence including rape (not involving h/h), class divide, Marie Antoinette.

Moonrise by Roberta Gayle **. Victorian / Second Empire. Art world, artist heroine, seafaring hero, poc h/h, Paris.

A Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel **. Medieval. Forbidden love, Jewish hero, Christian heroine, hero is medical student, virgin hero (IIRC), Black Death.

Ruthless by Anne Stuart **. Georgian / Ancien Régime. First in the House of Rohan series. Rakehell hero, sexually abused heroine, bluestocking heroine, May-December.

The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne **. French Revolution. Third in the Spymasters series – in which France is a recurring location - but chronologically the first. Secret identity, spies, suspense, sexually experienced heroine.

The Heart’s Wager by Gayle Wilson. Regency / Bourbon Restoration / The Hundred Days. Friends-to-lovers, physically scarred hero, heroine brought up in gambling den, spies.

King of the Castle by Victoria Holt **. Nineteenth century. Gothic. Heroine is an art restorer, château set amid vineyards, dead first wife, promiscuous hero.

Dance by Judy Cuevas (also known as Judith Ivory) **. Edwardian / Belle Époque. Independent heroine who produces and directs films; starchy, self-denying, head-of-the-family hero; heroine jilted hero’s brother. Their backstories are encountered in a connected book, Bliss. A third historical, Beast (as the title suggests, a Beauty and the Beast tale), takes place in France and on an ocean liner.

Don’t Tempt Me by Sylvia Day. Georgian / Ancien Régime. Fourth in the Georgian series. Erotic romance. Twin sisters, mistaken identity, spies, suspense, amnesia, rake hero.

Angélique, the Marquise of the Angels by Anne Golon **. 17th century. Not a standalone as the book finishes on a disconsolate cliffhanger and forms the first installment in an extended adventure romance series. Still, no list of historical romances set in France would be complete without this vintage classic. Long wildly popular in Europe, the Angélique series was known for its action-filled blend of intrigue, history, and lustiness, including pirates, slavery, and the court of the Sun King. In line with some earlier romances, expect a strongly heroine-centric storyline in which she (due to plot-spoiler circumstances) has more than one relationship yet recognises only one true love. If you enjoy Bertrice Small, Angélique may very well work for you. In addition, some of the books have been made into feature-length films, the first one twice (1960s and 2013).

A Midnight Dance by Lila DiPasqua **.17th century. Erotic romance. Loose retelling of Charles Perrault’s Cinderella, debt-ridden but resourceful heroine, childhood crush, privateer hero, acting troupe, deception, thievery, revenge.

The Protector by Madeline Hunter **. Medieval. Fifth in the Medieval series. Alpha heroine, warrior heroine, heroine prefers convent over marriage, alpha hero, honourable hero, sieges and battles, Black Death. I only recently discovered the story deals with Brittany, then an independent Duchy in the grip of succession struggles in which England and France aggressively meddled. Those familiar with my blog will probably not be surprised to learn that the Breton setting has made it shoot up to the top of my TBR. [ETA 11 Feb. 2017: Cannot disagree more with reviewers who’ve deemed the hero honourable. He’s an old school romance misogynist. The other major negative is the slut shaming and all other women being belittled unless they’re the heroine in another book by the author. Strong points include the fluid writing style, an interesting, smart, and capable heroine, and decent historical texture. Blood pressure warning re. said negatives. Hero: D (a few, small redeeming moments rescue him from an F). Heroine: A. Story: B.]

The Treasure Keeper by Shana Abé *. Georgian / Ancien Régime. Fourth in the Drakón series. Dragon shapeshifters, hero-in-pursuit, disabled hero, heroine betrothed to someone else, the-trouble-with-ghosts.

The Champion by Elizabeth Chadwick * (?). Medieval. Tournaments, separated lovers, miscarriage, court of King John. This is a romance that pulls toward romantic historical fiction (Chadwick later transitioned to biographical historical fiction).

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart **. Since nearly seventy years have passed since its original publication, I’m now classifying this vintage Gothic romance, written and set in the 1950s, as a historical romance. Cinderella, governess, child-in-peril, hero who may or may not be a villain. Also set in France are Thunder on the Right, Stewart’s first effort and a very purple gothic (though published second), and Madam, Will You Talk, a taut, atmospheric romantic suspense in which the heroine’s superb driving ability plays a central role.

Maiden of Fire by Deborah Johns **. Medieval. Templars, Cathars, Inquisition, heroine with a secret mission, scribe heroine, hero belongs to enemy force, forbidden love.

The Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale *. Georgian / Ancien Régime. Friends-to-lovers, cross-dressing heroine, angry heroine, recluse hero, disabled hero, hero-in-pursuit, pet wolf, revenge. And yes, that’s Fabio on the original cover.

A Lady’s Secret by Jo Beverley *. Georgian / Ancien Régime. Malloren series but works as a standalone. Road trip, heroine in peril, kind and fun-loving hero, heroine born out of wedlock, famous but secret father, competent and adventurous heroine, scene stealing Papillon.

Surrender to a Stranger by Karyn Monk **. French Revolution. Rescue missions, commoner hero is spy, noblewoman heroine is betrothed to someone else, adventure, suspense, revenge. (Note that Goodreads and Amazon synopses are messed up, conflating two unrelated novels. For example, the hero’s name is Armand St. James, not Damien Powell.)

Rake Most Likely to Rebel by Bronwyn Scott **. Regency / July Monarchy. Fencing, secret identity, blackmail, cross-dressing heroine, heroine expert at her profession, duteous hero expected to marry someone else, hero not a rake despite book title.