Scotland

Grimm up north: Childhood tales prepared Dickie for The Witch

Kate Dickie in The Witch Image copyright Universal Pictures
Image caption Kate Dickie as mother-of-five Katherine in Robert Eggers' horror The Witch

Actress Kate Dickie says growing up in Scotland prepared her for a role in psychological horror The Witch.

Set in New England in 1630, The Witch follows a Yorkshire family's struggles on a remote plot of land on the fringes of a dark forest.

As if eking out a existence in the wilderness of a strange new world is not bad enough, the household finds itself under attack in disturbing events. Crops mysteriously fail, livestock turn nasty, a child vanishes and another appears to be possessed by an evil spirit.

East Kilbride-born Dickie reckons she was more than ready for the film's unsettling subject matter - thanks to her bedtime reading.

Image copyright Universal Pictures
Image caption The film focuses on unsettling goings on in 17th Century New England

"My generation grew up with the Grimm fairytales. When I first read the script for The Witch, it felt like reading a Grimm fairytale," she says.

"I also grew up with Burns' Tam O'Shanter and the Scottish tradition of storytelling, so I felt quite an affinity with the film's story because I was fascinated with such stories when I was wee.

"These stories wouldn't make you scream out loud, it was more screaming on the inside because the tales were so sinister and unsettling."

'Family crumbles'

Dickie, who played the paranoid, eerie castle-dwelling matriarch Lysa Arryn in TV fantasy drama series Game of Thrones, is mother-of-five Katherine in The Witch.

Her on-screen husband is a farmer from Yorkshire played by Ralph Ineson, who has also appeared in Game of Thrones but is probably best-known as Finchy in comedy series The Office.

"My character, Katherine, is at a real crossroads in her life," Dickie says.

Image copyright Universal Pictures
Image caption The Witch was shot in a forest in Canada

"She has been pushed into the extremes with her family and starts to question some beliefs she had before.

"She is an interesting character who has a lot contradictions and her firm foundations are tested.

"They have left Yorkshire for New England to start this new life to be part of this Puritan plantation.

"But her family starts to crumble around her. Even at the beginning of the movie this is starting to happen."

Filming for Robert Eggers' directorial debut feature was largely done in forests close to an abandoned lumber town in Ontario in Canada.

'Good vibes'

Dickie says the shoot could be "physically hard" at times, adding that the production team and adult cast members always had the child actors' welfare at the forefront of their minds.

"Our base was this little town and we took over a hotel where we all lived together," she says.

"We had a week's rehearsal which gave the younger kids in the cast time to get to know us and trust us. It also gave us all a chance to form the familial bonds that were needed for the film."

Image copyright Universal Pictures
Image caption Dickie and some of the movie's young cast

The young cast members were also shielded from the movie's most frightening scenes.

Dickie says: "The kids would not see what was supposed to be scaring them. Instead they would get direction from Robert and, rather than what the audience sees in the film, they are reacting to a 'boo' from him.

"Travelling back together as a crew and cast allowed us to unwind and talk about the day with the kids.

"Although it was tough physically we had a great time and made some beautiful friendships. There were a lot of good vibes."

Image copyright Universal Pictures
Image caption Dickie says she finds herself drawn to characters living through difficult times

But "good vibes" are unlikely to be associated with any of Dickie's future roles in film or television.

"I would like to say I have a romcom or a comedy coming up next," she laughs, before adding: "Sorry, I can't say that is going to happen."

"I think because of the combination of my face and the stuff I am interested in, I get drawn to things that are complex and to characters living in a time in their lives that aren't easy. I'm fascinated with that."

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment's The Witch is available on digital download and will be released to Blu-ray and DVD on Monday.

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