The Doll Factory: The Gothic drama unafraid to explore the 'underlying threat' women face every day from men

The series is out in full now on Paramount+

The Doll Factory (Paramount+)
The Doll Factory stars Esme Creed-Miles as Iris, who seeks liberation in a period when women weren't allowed to live out their dreams (Paramount+)

The Doll Factory is unafraid to examine the "underlying threat" that some men can pose to women, and the removal of "rose-tinted" glasses when it came to this subject was something the cast appreciated, they tell Yahoo UK.

This Paramount+ Gothic drama, set in the Victorian era, follows budding painter Iris (Esme Creed-Miles) who escapes her oppressive home life with twin sister Rose (Mirren Mack) in order to make her dreams of being an artist come true. But it also brings her to the attention of two very different men: lothario painter Louis (George Webster) and taxidermist/curio-collector Silas (Éanna Hardwicke).

Their respective pursuing of her affections aren't as well-meaning as it may seem on paper, though, and with the tagline "desire can be deadly" it's no wonder the subject is as much a focal point of the series as Iris' quest for independence and sexual liberation.

Webster and Hardwicke speak of this aspect of the story with Yahoo UK alongside their co-stars Freddy Carter, who plays Silas' friend and surgeon Gideon, Saoirse-Monica Jackson, who plays prostitute Bluebell, and Mirren Mack.

"Louis is the poster boy for objectification of women, I suppose artists at that time absolutely all were," Webster says. "[Women] were very much a prop to be used and he was just looking for somebody beautiful to use for his painting, then he's surprised that she has wit and charm.

The Doll Factory (Paramount+)
George Webster and Creed-Miles as Louis and Iris in The Doll Factory, Louis is "the poster boy for objectifying women" the actor says (Paramount+)

"I think one of the most interesting things about playing Louis is him almost unravelling that prejudice in his own head, coming to terms with the fact that women are people, this mad concept."

Hardwicke felt this was a subject that especially applied to Silas, because all is not as it seems when it comes to his friendship with Iris which is revealed as the narrative, which is based on Elizabeth Macneal's book of the same name, develops.

"The stories about people who love something to death, and in that way don't love it, there's a possessiveness and an obsessiveness to it.Éanna Hardwicke

"It's kind of everywhere in the story, it's in Bluebell's story, it's in Iris' story obviously. There's this world that wants to use you for its own commercial or creative purposes, and then discourage you.

"Iris is discovering her own creativity, her own passions in life, her own sexual liberation in a hostile world, and that is still true today."

Men are scared women will laugh at them, women are scared men will kill them

Picture Shows: (L-R) Silas played by (ÉANNA HARDWICKE)  - The Doll Factory. (Paramount+)
Éanna Hardwicke as Silas, whose interest in Iris takes a much darker turn as the story goes on and his obsessive nature becomes revealed (Paramount+)

For both Louis and Silas there's a level of manipulation and control that they wish to, or actively, exert on Iris over the course of the story.

With Louis it's supporting her artistic ambitions enough to make her his lover but not with the intention of helping her dreams become a reality, while Silas projects an unrealistic and unachievable perfection onto her and reacts very badly when he learns she doesn't match his vision of her.

"There's a sense of threat from a lot of the men in the story, I think," Harwicke says, speaking of how he wanted to approach the character.

"Not all of them, obviously, but for a lot of them, even when their intentions are largely good, like Gideon, there's an underlying threat there and I think, in approaching it, I always try not to manipulate anything.

Picture Shows: (L-R) Iris played by (ESMÉ CREED-MILES), Albie played by (REECE) and Silas played by (ÉANNA HARDWICKE) - The Doll Factory. (Paramount+)
Hardwick spoke of how the show explores the "sense of threat from a lot of the men in the story" including his character (Paramount+)

"I just try and go 'What is it on the page?' See it the way the character sees themselves and sees the world, I wanted to feel true to him and all the characters in the story, that that threat is ingrained in society."

Louis, Webster says, was interesting because he didn't "necessarily know" of how his actions would hurt Iris, because in his mind he is treating her well.

He explains: "There's a danger to him and to most of the men in that story, but Louis goes through a learning process, becoming conscious of it, or at least conscious of how he might be coming across to people, and I'd like to think that he would leave the end of this story a better man, a more nuanced man than we find him as a man child. I suppose it's the ignorance of the innate danger of men, I suppose."

The Doll Factory (Paramount+)
Freddy Carter as Gideon in The Doll Factory, who commended his co-stars for exploring the "grey areas" of their characters (Paramount+)

Reflecting on his co-stars performances, Carter adds: "Something I hadn't noticed in the script, and I think it's how these two guys play it so interestingly and go into the grey areas, [is] how fragile these two characters and a lot of the other men are, and how they obsess wholeheartedly.

"But it's actually quite fragile, that want and desire, I don't mean that in a positive way.


"It's that saying about 'men are scared women are gonna laugh at them, women are scared men are gonna kill them'"Freddy Carter

They're so extreme, and the man child thing made me think of that, it's a pathetic-ness."

Challenging the depiction of women onscreen

Jackson agreed, saying she appreciated how the story opted not to make Iris a saviour for either Louis or Silas, a trope that she feels has been used for women far too many times onscreen.

"What's great about this story is that it's not down to Iris to make him a better man," Jackson says.

"I think we're so sick of seeing these stories were men become better through woman teaching them, and basically emotionally breastfeeding them. I'm so sick of seeing that over and over, and over again."

"These men are forced into figuring that out for themselves, it's not left down to her which I think is great."Saoirse-Monica Jackson

But she also points out how Iris not only facing danger from the men in her life but also with many of the women too, like her sister Rose.

The Doll Factory (Paramount+)
Saoirse-Monica Jackson spoke of how she was "sick of seeing these stories were men become better through woman teaching them" and was happy The Doll Factory didn't rely on this trope (Paramount+)

"It's quite fascinating as well the oppression that she feels from her sister, and I definitely think that older woman shaming you when you're discovering who you are, or your own sexual liberation, or trying to find any form of self worth or confidence, there is nothing more hurtful than another woman — especially a woman who's close to you never mind your twin sister — doing that," she says.

Mack sees it differently, saying: "I felt that Rose's relationship with Iris [is] when you love someone so much and you're just so afraid of them leaving you. Rose is completely dependent on Iris because in her past she got the shock of her life, she had this horrible dance with death that scared her forever — left her physically scarred but really emotionally hurting.

"The only family that she has and the only person who loves her and has stayed with her in that really difficult and scary journey was her sister, and that is purely built on love but it's like she can't let go of that hand because she doesn't want to be alone, and and she wants to keep her."

The Doll Factory (Paramount+)
The Doll Factory also explores how women can be shamed by other women, like Iris is by her twin sister Rose (Paramount+)

"This young woman has such incredible drive and she really she takes her life in her hands and risks everything because of her knowledge that she has more to give in this world than what everyone in society, including her own sister, was saying, like trying to rein her in and and say 'no, be less'," Mack says of Iris.

"She has this self-belief that she is worth putting her life on the line and going for it, and moving from these ties that are constricting her."Mirren Mack

Hardwicke also appreciated this, and the way in which the story doesn't shy away from the difficulties of the period: "I think it's so important to get that right, that you're not telling anything rose-tinted about the time. It's a story with hope, and with endurance, and redemption, but there's loss along the way.

"I think it's just unfair if you don't keep all of that in your hands when you're telling the story, and that's just testament to the storytellers — they carried all of that, the reality of just how brutal it was."

The Doll Factory is available to watch in full on Paramount+ UK now.

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