King Charles II Period Film 'Monstrous Beauty' Will Feature a Stunning Ensemble Cast

Fiona Shaw, Bella Ramsey, and Dominic West are joining the cast of 'Monstrous Beauty'

Fiona Shaw, Bella Ramsey, and Dominic West are joining the cast of 'Monstrous Beauty'

PBS/BBC/Amazon Studios/Netflix

The Stuart Restoration, which saw King Charles II reclaim his family's throne following his father's execution and the intervening years of Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate, is probably one of the most dramatic times in England's history. The restoration of the monarchy not only saw Charles II return from a life of exile, but his subsequent court was famously scandalous, known for its extravagance and general air of debauchery. Illicit affairs, adultery, gambling, and partying were rampant, and the king surrounded himself with bawdy rakes and libertines. Yet, despite the memorable setting and licentious attitudes of Charles' court, relatively few historical dramas have taken on the challenge of telling stories set in this time period. 

This is a big part of the reason that the upcoming feature film Monstrous Beauty is so intriguing. Written and directed by BAFTA and Golden Globe nominee Romola Garai, the film follows the story of Barbara Fields, an aspiring playwright who suffers from a rare condition that means her body is entirely covered in hair. Given a place in Charles II's court, she longs to be seen for who she is rather than regarded as a freakish wonder to be gawked at and hopes that the other powerful women there can somehow help her achieve her dreams. 

The Last of Us star Bella Ramsey has been tapped to play Barbara, alongside Dominic West (The Crown) as King Charles II, Ruth Negga (Passing) as his infamous mistress Nell Gwynn, and Fiona Shaw (Baptiste) as Aphra Ben, the first published female playwright in history.

Here's the official description.

"Set in the 17th Century, Monstrous Beauty is the story of a unique young woman, Barbara Field (Ramsey), born into poverty with a rare condition that means she is entirely covered in hair. Given the precious gift of an education, she is offered the opportunity of a place in the luxurious and decadent court of King Charles II (West), as a “Natural Wonder” where people with extraordinary appearances mix with the aristocracy.

Fuelled by the desire to be defined for who she is rather than how she looks, Barbara aspires to become a playwright under the auspices of famous actress Nell Gwyn (Negga), powerful mistress to the King. Nell herself is intent on teaching Charles a public lesson on the true appreciation of women beyond their physical appearance. Barbara seeks the help of famous playwright of the day, Aphra Behn (Shaw), and casts beautiful actor Vale (the object of Barbara’s own desire) as the lead, despite his lack of talent. But will Barbara succeed in becoming a woman of independent means whilst challenging a highly patriarchal society, and become master of her own destiny?”

“I am beyond thrilled to be bringing this script, that I love so much and that has lived within me for so many years, to the screen," Garai said in a statement. ?Barbara’s deep need to express herself and to be seen and appreciated by others… is all of ours; I am over the moon and truly humbled to be making this film with such an incredible roster of talent – they have responded with such intelligence, sensitivity, and love to Barbara and her story. ”

Filming on Monstrous Beauty is slated to begin in September.

Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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