The next step in actress Rebecca Ferguson’s rapidly blossoming career is in next week’s Stephen King adaptation Doctor Sleep, but in 2020 she hops over to the realm of science fiction for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. The actress plays Lady Jessica in the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 novel and while fans of the material might think they know what to expect from the character, this is a new telling. Rebecca Ferguson teased Lady Jessica’s update in Dune, saying:
Completely and utterly honors the strength of Jessica–the Bene Gesserit that she is, even though she is a concubine and her rights are not as high as the King or what her son becomes. Denis was very much aligned with creating empowerment and powerful moments for her where they were needed. I think Frank Herbert… when he wrote it he didn’t really live in an understandably equal environment. And the book is great! It has beautiful moments in it. It’s not really where we are or where we should be.
The first thing that Rebecca Ferguson wants people to know about Dune and her portrayal of Lady Jessica is that it will honor the character that Frank Herbert created. Lady Jessica is already a hugely important character with a critical role to play in the story. This is despite the fact she is the concubine of Duke Leto Atreides and mother to the hero and as a woman doesn’t necessarily have the kind of agency that the powerful male characters in the story do.
Based on what Rebecca Ferguson tells ComingSoon.net, director Denis Villeneuve wanted to update Lady Jessica in Dune by giving her important moments that empower the character in a new way and provide the audience with more of her perspective. So it sounds like Lady Jessica will perhaps have more agency in this feature film adaptation than she does on the page, not that she is in any way a passive or ineffectual character in Frank Herbert’s original text.
What this will mean in practice we’ll have to wait and see because it’s not like Lady Jessica is a completely helpless bystander in the story. She isn’t just a concubine to a powerful lord and the mother of Paul Atreides, she is also a Bene Gesserit.
The Bene Gesserit is a matriarchal order that plays a significant role in the goings on in Frank Herbert’s fictional universe (and they are getting their own TV series). The members of this sisterhood, including Lady Jessica, also have powerful abilities. Lady Jessica isn’t just the mother to the hero, she’s a defiant character and a hero in her own right.
Frank Herbert’s Dune is a sacred text for science fiction fans so any major deviations from the arc of that novel will likely result in blowback from the fanbase. But it sounds like Lady Jessica’s update in Dune will just give her some great moments that give us more insight into her character and that sounds like a good thing.
Rebecca Ferguson succeeds Francesca Annis who played Lady Jessica in David Lynch’s 1984 film and Saskia Reeves who played the Bene Gesserit in the 2000 SyFy mini-series. The Mission: Impossible Fallout actress joins Dune alongside one of the most stellar casts ever assembled that includes Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista, Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac, Javier Bardem and Stellan Skarsgård, among others.
Dune arrives in theaters on December 18, 2020. Check out our 2020 Release Schedule to keep track of all the big movies coming next year.