Entertainment & Arts

Killer role for Atonement star Ronan

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Media captionSaoirse Ronan and Joe Wright talk to BBC Breakfast about their new film

Irish actress Saoirse Ronan and British director Joe Wright talk about their latest collaboration, an espionage thriller with some unconventional elements.

A highly-trained assassin leaves a secret hide-out in Finland to eliminate a lethal enemy operative, risking life and limb to achieve a seemingly impossible objective.

It sounds like the plot of a Jason Bourne film, and could easily be, were it not for two unusual factors.

First, the assassin is a 16-year-old girl - played by 17-year-old Saoirse Ronan - who has been raised in isolation by her father, an ex-CIA agent in fear of his life.

The second is that the man behind the camera is Joe Wright, the British director best known for such elegant period dramas as Atonement and Pride and Prejudice.

"When I read the script I thought that it was going to be a typical action movie," explains Ronan, whose role in Atonement saw her nominated for an Oscar and a Bafta.

"But when I made the film it felt more like a surreal fairy-tale. The action's very important, but there was such a strong sense of drama as well."

"I don't see it as being set in the real world at all," says Wright, who came to the film after working with Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr on urban drama The Soloist.

"For me it exists in a kind of dream space, in the way a lot of surrealist painting does."

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Media captionRonan talks to the BBC's Tom Brook about her role in Hanna

That might be so, yet the violence - stylised though it is - looks real enough on screen.

In her pursuit of CIA grandee Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), the pint-sized Ronan fires guns, snaps necks and throws enough punches to floor David Haye.

This has not stopped the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) giving Hanna a mild 12A certificate, citing its "moderate" violence and "one use of strong language".

Does violence presented in a fantasy context get an easier ride from the censors than that presented in a dramatic setting? To a point, says Wright.

"There isn't really any swearing in this film, nor any sex, and the violence that does occur is not at all realistic," he tells the BBC News website.

"There aren't a lot of gruesome scenes," agrees Ronan, recently seen alongside Colin Farrell in prisoner escape yarn The Way Back.

"The fairy-tale aspect might have something to do with the rating. It's all a little bit make-believe and fantastical."

The Bourne comparison is easy to make, not least because two of the entries in the Matt Damon trilogy were also directed by a Briton.

Indeed, Hanna sees Wright join a growing number of British film-makers who have turned their hand to action.

Their ranks include Christopher Nolan, of The Dark Knight and Inception fame, and Matthew Vaughn, director of Kick-Ass and the upcoming X-Men: First Class.

Image caption Wright recently had a child with wife Anoushka Shankar (l)

Having been recruited to helm the next James Bond film, Oscar winner Sam Mendes is the latest man to give action a shot.

Wright says he is "not sure" why so many of his compatriots are tackling the genre, but believes they bring a distinctive sensibility to it.

"What I found very interesting about Paul Greengrass's Bourne films was the idea that it was possible to make an action movie that had a social and moral conscience," he explains.

"Prior to the Bourne films they were all kind of misogynistic, testosterone-driven, borderline right-wing pieces of American imperial propaganda.

"It seems that now one can offer a different point of view and audiences will engage with that."

"I knew Joe could do something different with this," nods Ronan. "Whether it was good or bad, it would be memorable.

"He leaves his mark on things and that was what he did, I think. Whether people like it or not, he made it special."

Hanna is out in the UK on 6 May.

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