In 2011, British filmmaker Joe Wright took a break from period dramas and directed the sleek action thriller Hanna. The film follows 15-year-old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), a genetically modified soldier who has been trained in seclusion by her father, rogue Central Intelligence Agency operative Erik (Eric Bana). Hanna’s training comes handy when CIA officer Marissa (Cate Blanchett) tracks her down. Wright’s blend of action and espionage drew critical praise, but the film was neither a blockbuster nor did it spawn a franchise.
However, the next few years did see an uptick in films about a young heroine taking on the world. “The Hunger Games was one of the better examples of similar reenactments of a young female protagonist having adventures and violently beating up people,” observed David Farr, who, along with Seth Lochhead, wrote Hanna.
Farr has resurrected Hanna for an eight-episode series that will be streamed on Amazon Prime Video from March 29. The titular heroine is 19-year-old Esme Creed-Miles, the daughter of British actors Samantha Morton and Charlie Creed-Miles. Joel Kinnaman (The Killing, Altered Carbon) plays Erik and Mireille Enos (The Catch, Good Omens) plays Marissa in the Amazon series.
“The reason I came back to the story was because Joe Wright took it to a wonderful charismatic direction, a strange colourful big fairy tale with Marissa in her green shoes chasing Hanna through Europe,” Farr said. “But the original screenplay was more about where Hanna came from, why she is in the woods, why her father kept her there for 14 years. I wanted to explore that story.”
Wright’s film spent no more than 20 minutes on the backstory of Erik and Hanna before settling into chase and action sequences. “A seven, seven-and-a-half hour series gives a chance to explore the narrative with way more depth,” Farr said. “The series is now a psychological coming-of-age story about a young girl who leaves behind her protected environment to explore a world she hasn’t encountered before, and there, she sees that the truth is far different from what her father raised her up with.” The series has “enormous tension and amazing action”, Farr promised.
The first season focuses on the father-daughter relationship. “Hanna almost escapes from her father to understand the world afresh and gain her own agency,” Farr explained. “Meanwhile, her father goes through a challenging journey – emotional and physical – to earn the right to be her father. He thinks he has done his duty, but he hasn’t.”
Like Wright’s movie, the series too travels across the globe. The action starts in the forests of Slovakia in Eastern Europe, where Erik and Hanna are holed up. The story moves to Spain and Morocco before settling in Berlin for a while. “In Berlin, where Erik is from, we meet people from his past, that he must team up with to exact revenge on Marissa,” Farr said.
A major portion of the series is also shot in Great Britain, which introduces the family and social community of Sophie (Jessica Barden), with whom Hanna develops a close relationship. “Their relationship is quite the pillar of the series,” Farr said. “One has grown up in the forest and knows nothing about the world outside and is therefore free, while another has to live with the expectations attached to what it means to be a young girl today with social media and online pressure.”
“I think spy stories are fundamentally about identity – about people hiding who they are and others trying to find out who the person really is,” Farr said, citing writers Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene as inspirations. “Metaphorically, spies make for great human stories, because we are all spies to each other by creating versions of ourselves for other people. We don’t necessarily believe the other person, and sometimes we don’t even believe ourselves.”
Farr cited the example of The Night Manager’s Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), who starts off as a luxury hotel employee, moulds himself into a career criminal, and then becomes a spy.
“Jonathan doesn’t really know who he is, which oddly helps him to be someone else,” Farr observed. “That is different from Hanna, who is a young woman constantly negotiating with a treacherous world of intrigue and espionage. But she herself has a kind of innocence and purity and vulnerability which stands in contrast to her physical ability to look after herself and her violent acts as an agent, if you like. That contrast is interesting.”
For Esme Creed-Miles, who turned 19 this February, Hanna is her first major role in film or television. She made her debut as a child in Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely (2007) before appearing in supporting roles in a few independent films. Playing Hanna, Creed-Miles said, required “working long hours day after day, bringing both physical and emotional elements to the table”.
The physical preparation involved two months of learning yoga and boxing “to get strong and flexible”, with running, martial arts training and intensive cardio exercises on the side. “I learnt that I am much more capable than I thought I was,” Creed-Miles said. “Playing a role like Hanna’s was empowering for me as a young woman.”
Creed-Miles did not reveal the acting tips she gets from her celebrated mother, Samantha Morton. “That’s between me and my mum,” Creed-Miles said. “I feel that with acting, there’s not much to learn. What you need to do is just focus and be as instinctual as possible.”