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August 17, 2008

Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton (1960-)

Tilda Swinton Cinema of Dreams Nairn

Tilda Swinton My Space: The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of DreamsTilda

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I returned from holiday on Aug 16th which coincidently is the day that actor Tilda Swinton, along with Mark Cousins a  curator of the Edinburgh Film Festival have started their own film festival in Nairn a small town in Scotland where she lives called Cinema of Dreams. Tilda Swinton is undoubtedly one of the most interesting actresses working mainly in Britain since the early 1980s. In the last few years she has taken on work in mainstream cinema as well as working with independent film makers  who are politically and aesthetically more cutting edge and avante garde. This has helped her to broaden her approach to film-making rather then compromise her more rebellious attitudes to the dominant political and aesthetic norms. This year she became an Oscar winner, she is also patron of the Edinburgh Film Festival and has sat on the jury at Cannes. 

Starting a new small scale festival is an exciting departure and chimes brilliantly with some of my own thoughts  about the need to create policy initiatives which encourage and develop  audiences  and a  love  of  cinema  in which cinema going is deemed as an important cultural activity as it is in much of mainland Europe. All too often the festivals which get covered in the media are primarily market mechanisms rather than an expression of the love of film itself.  In the 1980s and 1990s Swinton was very much associated with the politically and artistically radical sections of theatre, film and TV. Swinton has often chosen to work with directors in Germany and France and has been openly critical of the British cinema as it has dveloped under New Labour which she sees as trying to emphasise an industrial agenda rather than one driven by the aesthetic and critical desires of audineces and those who wish to work outside of the mainstream.

In recent years it has been somewhat of a surprise for many to see her playing a role in the screen adaptations of the C. S. Lewis Narnia novels. Swinton is asked about this in a BBC interview, her response focuses upon the different styles of creativity between a blockbuster and smaller independent films. The Observer Know your Narnia Books glossary describes Tilda Swinton's Jadis as follows:

T is for Tilda Swinton

Whose extraordinary face makes her perfect for the White Witch, and yet there's something oddly missing. Usually an evil woman in myth has a dangerously sexual element to her power. But since her adversaries are children and animals, that sexual weapon becomes redundant, and the result is a little bland

YouTube interview with Tilda Swinton on winning an Oscar for best supporting actress in Michael Clayton:

Profile Summary

Coming from a well off background Tilda Swinton attended had a privately funded education as a child. She gained four A levels and had an interest in theatre and performance. she went to Africa for two years after leaving . She then attended New Hall, Cambridge, a women's, college from 1980 to 1983, studying social and political science and English Literature. At university she became involved in more politically oriented and punk influenced productions. After leaving university this experience helped her to join the RSC where she played in 4 minor roles. This type of institution didn't suit her radicalised approach at the time and she left  returning to Edinburgh to  join the Traverse Theatre which was and is primarily concerned with contemporary plays.  She played in The White Rose a politically oriented play about the role of women in the Soviet Union and their resistance to the Nazis. Here she first met her future husband John Byrne. At the time Byrne was a set designer for White Rose being a talented playwrite and painter.

By the mid-1980s she started to work with Derek Jarman who made many of the most challenging of British films at the time such as Sebastiane taking on issues of homosexual desire, he also made Jubilee as a punk take on the Queeen's 25th anniversary celebratory year.  Swinton first worked with him on Caravaggio and later worked on most of the rest of Jarman's films such a The Last of England an excoriating examination of Britain under Thatcher and also The Garden, Wittgenstein (1993) and then Edward II and providing the narration for Blue. She also worked with Sally Potter as the lead in Orlando (1992) based upon the book by Virginia Wolff.

Swinton has also had a good working relationship with John Maybury appearing in both his screen adaptation for TV of Man to Man which Swinton had starred in as a stage play. Much later she would apear in Maybury's Love is the Devil (1998) a controversial film produced by the BBC and part funded by the National Lottery about the life of painter Francis Bacon.

Swinton increasingly took up work in the USA and appeared in films such as The Beach and Vanilla Sky becoming more familiar to American audiences. This undoubtedly helped her chances of being offered the role of Jadis in the Chronicles of Narnia series. 2008 can be seen as  Tilda Swinton's most successful year in terms of international recognition when she won a BAFTA in February  2008 for her  role in Michael Clayton a role in which she also gained an Oscar for best supporting actress. See Tom Brook's BBC America interview with Tilda Swinton.

There has been an ongoing committment to helping to develop Scottish cinema in the films she has acted in such as the low budget thriller The Young Adam alongside Scottish actor Ewan McGregor and directed by Scottish director David Mackenzie set amongst the Glasgow barge community, and written by the avante-garde Scottish author Alexander Trocchi  her patronage of the Edinburgh International Film Festival  and now her  new  festival project in Nairn the Cinema of Dreams. On the Young Adam link in the filmography there is a downloadable interview with her about developments in Scottish Cinema.

Swinton in sleepwalkers

Tilda Swinton in the video installation Sleepwalkers

Swinton's interviews make interesting viewing for she is happy to give the interviewer's a hard time rather than rolling over for an imagined adoring audience. Often she will throw interviewer's sometimes sycophantic questions back at them. She has well thought out views, principles and perspectives and is following a career path which has now diversified into a rich and multilayered one going well beyond acting itself. She likes working with artists on moving image work rather than straightforward films. This was shown in her long collaboration with Derek Jarman as well as work with Sally Potter and then taking a role in the Maybury film about Francis Bacon. One of her most recent collaborations with an artist was on the video installation Sleepwalkers by Doug Aitken. Tilda Swinton is determined to set new challenges for herself and her audiences and dalliances with the mainstream appear to enhance her radical positions rather than compromise them.


Film Title
Year  of Production
Country of Production
Caravaggio 1986 Derek Jarman

Zastrozzi: A Romance  1986

The Open Universe

Egomania - Insel Ohne Hoffnung 1986

Friendship's Death


Degrees Of Blindness (short)


The Last Of England 
1988 Derek Jarman
War Requiem

Edward II
1991 Derek Jarman
The Party  1991

The Garden  1990 Derek Jarman

Sally Potter

Blue (voice)  1993 Derek Jarman

1993 Derek Jarman

Female Perversions

Conceiving Ada 1997

Love Is The Devil 1998
John Maybury BBC Films
The War Zone 1999

The Beach 2000

Possible Worlds

The Deep End 2001

Vanilla Sky



Young Adam
2003 David Mackenzie

The Statement



Broken Flowers

The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe 2005

Stephanie Daley

Sleepwalkers (video installation) 2007 Doug Aitken

The Man From London
2007 Bela Tarr

Michael Clayton [Oscar & BAFTA best supporting actress] 2007

Julia 2008 Erick Zonca

Burn After Reading 2008 Cohen Brothers

The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian  2008

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button 2008 David fincher

Isaac Julien


Swinton takes on Cannes with cup cakes and Scottish rain By Jonathan Brown Independent Saturday, 16 August 2008

Peter Ross The Scotsman chatting with Tilda Swinton Aug 2008 at The Cinema of Dreams

BBC on Tilda Swinton's Oscar Nomination for her role in  Michael  Clayton.

Screenonline Tilda Swinton Profile

Tiscali Biography of Tilda Swinton

Presskit from Sony for The Young Adam

Guardian review of Young Adam and associated pages

Sight & Sound review of The Young Adam


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