Denis Villeneuve Gave ‘Dune’ Writer Mandatory Goal: Focus on the Women Characters

Villeneuve said it was of utmost importance to bring "more femininity" to Frank Herbert's story.

Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” has started its theatrical release overseas ahead of a U.S. launch in late October. Critics have seen the film, and many of them agree Rebecca Ferguson is a standout as Lady Jessica. The emotional backbone of Villeneuve’s first “Dune” is the relationship between Lady Jessica and her son Paul Atreides, played by Timothée Chalamet. The filmmaker recently told Empire magazine it was a top priority for him to make “Dune” a more “feminine” story while he was adapting Frank Herbert’s novel with co-writers Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth. The latter has been Oscar nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay five times — “Forrest Gump” (1994), “The Insider” (1999), “Munich” (2005), “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008), and “A Star Is Born” (2018) — winning for “Forrest Gump.”

“For me, it was important to bring more femininity to the story,” Villeneuve said. “I am fascinated by the relationship of femininity and power, the place of women in society.”

“[Screenwriter] Eric Roth said, ‘If you had one aspect of the novel you would like me to focus on, what would it be?’ I said, ‘The women,'” Villeneuve continued. “The entire story unfolds because of Lady Jessica, because of a decision she made to give birth to Paul instead of a girl [via a breeding programme]. She’s a fascinating character, one of the most influential and most interesting in the novel.”

Ferguson previously said that part of the allure of joining Villenueve’s “Dune” was in how the screenwriters made Lady Jessica a far weightier presence on the narrative than in the novel. The actress told Fandom, “Something that Denis Villeneuve and the writers have really taken into consideration is [that] this book was written back in the day when women were portrayed differently to what we are expecting nowadays — which we call gender equality. And it’s something that they have taken into consideration making this script.

“Even though [Lady Jessica] is a concubine to the king, she’s also his bodyguard, his mentor, she can read thought and emotion, and she’s the best fighter there is,” Ferguson added. “So there’s a subtle power that she needs to teach her son, [Paul Atreides], played by Timothée Chalamet. It’s a complex story, it’s hard to discuss in one sentence.”

“Dune” opens in U.S. theaters and on HBO Max on October 22.

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