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Who is starring in the Hilma af Klint movie? Cast interviews and film review

Who is starring in the Hilma af Klint movie? Cast interviews and film review

Who is Hilma af Klint? This question is at the heart of a new biopic exploring the life and legacy of the Western world's first abstract artist

Director Lasse Hallström (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules, Chocolat) brings Hilma, his new film about Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), to UK cinemas from October 28th 2022. This epic drama, also written by the director, showcases what turns out to be a pioneering abstract artist ahead of her peers Kandinsky, Mondrian and Malevich. There’s much to uncover in this moving and exhilarating film, not the least the women behind this extraordinary artist.  

It features Hallström's own daughter Tora Hallström (Safe Haven) and his wife Lena Olin (Alias) both playing the part of Hilma af Klint. This ploy works wonderfully when Hallström merges their faces in scenes of reminiscence or transition from youth to old age, as the actors naturally resemble one another.  

Hilma © Viaplay Group

Hilma © Viaplay Group

Hilma delves into Klint’s spiritualism (inspired by the Theosophical Movement), which is triggered by the death of her little sister. As an art student at Sweden’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, she meets Sigrid Hedman, a disciple of the famous medium Helena Blavatsky, who practices seances. From then onwards, Klint’s work becomes increasingly abstract, which she claims is “automotive”, driven by spirits from the afterlife.  

"However, Hilma is not the only woman taking centre stage in this female focussed biopic"

Tora Hallström manages to convey an off-hand irreverence for all things establishment in her portrayal of Hilma. She scoffs at the idea of marriage and scorns the Royal Academicians in Stockholm for not believing in her abstract art. With the help of her mother’s German speaking nurse, she chases the philosopher, Rudolph Steiner, intent on gaining his approval only to find he dismisses her automotive drawings too. 

However, as hinted, Hilma is not the only woman taking centre stage in this female focussed biopic. Hilma af Klint is supported by a group of like-minded women called “De Fem” (The Five) from the Royal Academy. They lead séances, create art together and become intensely involved. They support Hilma in her quest to build a temple in which her art, their art, can be housed and the “Grand Masters” or spirits revered.  

Hilma af Klint - Evolution, No. 13, Group VI, 1908 © Public domain

Hilma af Klint, Evolution, No. 13, Group VI, 1908 © Public domain

Catherine Chalk (Miss Julie, The Welkin) plays Hilma’s long-time partner and probably her greatest love, the artist Anna Cassell. Jazzy De Lisser (Vampire Academy) plays Hilma’s other love interest, Thomasine Andersson, the German-speaking nurse. And Rebecca Calder (I May Destroy You) plays Cornelia Cederberg, an amateur artist and sister to the publisher of a spiritualist magazine. 

At the resplendent Renaissance Hotel in London’s King’s Cross, prior to the film’s premiere, I met the three actors playing these significant women, to ask them more about the film and their characters, the women behind the woman Hilma af Klint.  

Interviews with the Hilma cast

Reader’s Digest: What drew you to the roles? Was there anything that attracted you to these parts? 

Catherine Chalk: What I really loved when I read the script, in terms of the relationships between Anna and Hilma, was to just have queer romance in a period drama and how real that relationship felt, and that being a female led story it didn’t shy away from all the complexities of it.  

Like with Cornelia being put down for not having an education, and Anna and Hilma falling out and not being what they needed for each other. That’s why it feels so real and honours them so well, because it didn’t shy away or try to paint this perfect picture (excuse the pun). It felt so relatable because, yeah, that’s what relationships are like.  

"The film feels so real and honours them so well, because it didn’t shy away or try to paint this perfect picture"

Jazzy De Lisser: I already knew about Hilma’s work but when I was sent the script I was completely blown away by the story because I didn’t know anything about her life. And by the fact, you know, she didn’t show any of her work and told her nephew to wait twenty years after her death before exhibiting her work. It shows how ahead of her time she was.  

Rebecca Calder: I had heard of Hilma too, but I hadn’t heard of Cornelia. Very few people had. I think as actors we’re always very protective of characters we play but for me, as Cornelia, it was a whole new level.  

I know that this film is about Hilma and celebrating her genius, but a big part of that genius was celebrating that collaborative De Fem effort. I felt under a lot of pressure to portray Cornelia in the right way because no one had told her story. In saying that, when I got to set, there was zero pressure because Lasse works in this safe, reassuring way where any suggestion is welcome. Nothing’s a bad idea. 

Hilma © Viaplay Group

Hilma © Viaplay Group

RD: Did you find the film an eye-opener in any respects? You were saying, Catherine, about shedding light on the women’s relationships hidden from history, for example?  

Catherine: Yeah, the woman behind the woman is the main eye-opener for this because now obviously Hilma’s work has been recognised, which is amazing, and you do read about De Fem but you don’t ever really hear about their contributions. The fact that all these huge paintings were created together.  

Cornelia did a lot of the drawings. It was this total team effort, which you don’t get from going to the exhibitions. I don’t see that captured there, whereas in this film you really see that her family and all the different elements made Hilma and her work what it is.  

Jazzy: Catherine just said it pretty perfectly. I mean it really is shedding light on this story and women supporting each other. And the honesty as well, the relationships falling apart and coming back together and when relationships fall apart there’s this underlying support. I think it’s really beautiful to share female-led stories which a lot of the time get slightly lost.  

Rebecca: I would say just to add, the process of how the works were made, the mysticism, the spiritualism, the medium and the séance group were such a huge part of the overall process. It feels like that is a story that we need to see literally, how that came together.


Hilma © Viaplay Group

RD: I agree it really worked visually, particularly the scenes when the paintings started whirling around. Also, at the end of the film, it made sense with those scenes with the spirals from her paintings which suggest the afterlife. 

Rebecca: They were predicting the future. They were predicting the Guggenheim and the temple (Hilma af Klint exhibition, 2019). It’s amazing. That scene, that visual link and the repetition of those things like the spiral going through to the afterlife.

RD: Could you tell me more about your roles, the women behind Hilma, and what type of person your character is? 

Catherine: Anna and Hilma were at art school. Anna was an artist as well, but she was much more interested in naturalism and learning as a landscape artist. She came from the North of Sweden, from vast countryside.  

Abstract work was very different from anything that Anna had done or I would say was drawn to or interested in. But they had a relationship together that lasted their lives as partners, as friends, falling out but maintaining contact. Anna was a real support in many ways—financially, emotionally, collaboratively. It was a very complex, emotional relationship. 

Jazzy: Thomasine comes in a bit later on in her life. Firstly, she is hired to be Hilma’s mother’s nurse. I think Thomasine is a real caregiver and a real support. She doesn’t mean to be centre of attention and gives Hilma the love to be able to go forward and get that confidence again.  

"It’s really beautiful to share female-led stories which a lot of the time get slightly lost"

Rebecca: Cornelia is someone who dedicated, we think—because nothing is very well documented with Cornelia or the other women—around 30 years working. And with séances, from what I understand, she was quite scared of the process in some ways. It affected her emotionally. We brought a little bit of that into the film.  

We see them age over a 32-year period in this film. It is quite subtle, but it’s there with the genius of makeup. They really committed their lives. Cornelia didn’t marry. She didn’t have children. She went against the norm of society at that time which I’m sure was viewed as being quite transgressive. I’m really happy that she’s getting a little bit of light shed onto her.  

Hilma will be released in UK cinemas on 28th October. Early 2023, Hilma will also be available on Viaplay UK, Viaplay’s streaming service set to launch in the UK this autumn 

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