Everyone knows the name Amanda Knox, the American student who became a tabloid sensation—Foxy Knoxy!—during her lengthy legal defense against charges that she murdered her roommate in Italy in 2007. Knox was finally exonerated in March after spending almost fours years in jail. But fewer people recall the victim’s name: 21-year-old Meredith Kercher.
“Meredith’s death is almost lost in all the fascination,” says director Michael Winterbottom (A Mighty Heart), who directs The Face of An Angel, a fictionalized version of the media circus that surrounded the case. “It was a big soap opera around Amanda Knox, and the press felt they had to tell the story in the way they did because of the demands of the market. They had to sell their stories back to America or back to Britain, so they have to frame their story the way the people would buy.”
In the film, Kate Beckinsale plays an American journalist covering a Knox-like trial, while Daniel Brühl plays a once-promising filmmaker who intends to adapt the journalist’s book about the trial into his next film. But once he arrives and witnesses the media frenzy, his perspective changes and so does the idea for the film he wants to make. As the tagline on the exclusive poster reads: “Forget the truth; find the story.”
The film parallels Winterbottom’s own experience. He acquired the film rights to Barbie Latza Nadeau’s book about the murder investigation, Angel Face, and set out in 2011 to visit the crime scene and observe both the trial and the media’s coverage of it. What he witnessed was both fascinating and grotesque, as the media fed a public hunger for stories about Knox and her friends while the trial progressed at a snail’s pace. With so much free time and so little actual news, the journalists’ existance began to resemble the lives of the students they were simultaneously shredding in their stories.
“They were there for years for the story, and there were parties and socializing. So there”s a sort of parallel between what the journalists were really up to and the scenes that they were reporting about,” says Winterbottom. “There was quite a lot made in the reporting of the student lifestyle—the sex and possibly drugs, whatever—and it seemed to me that journalists were not afraid to point out the flaws of people without really reminding the reader that they’re just as flawed as the people they’re criticizing.”
To tell that story, Winterbottom decided to abandon the actual names of Knox and Kercher to allow some literary license—a decision that was ultimately necessary, but one that squandered the commercial aspects of making a film about Foxy Knoxy. “We had a lot of discussions,” he admits, with a laugh. “I’m not sure it was on that basis, in terms of it’s more commercial to have Amanda Knox. I’d say it was more about making sure that ethically, it felt right. We did contact the Kerchers to make sure they knew what we were doing, and in the end, we tried to make an honorable film.”
The Face of An Angel, which also stars Cara Delevingne and Genevieve Gaunt, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and will open in the U.S. on June 19.