Warning: Spoilers ahead for the book and film versions of Me Before You.
Louisa Clark, the lead character in Me Before You, played by Emilia Clarke, is a sweet, kind-hearted girl with an exceedingly positive outlook on life and a colorful, juvenile wardrobe. She has never ventured far from her small-town in the English countryside, seemingly content with her dolt of a boyfriend and her dead-end job. That all changes, of course, when she meets Will Traynor, the former Master of the Universe whose large, adventurous life is upended after a motorcycle accident leaves him a quadriplegic. Once she becomes his caregiver, Louisa starts discovering how large her life can be and he urges her to explore the world beyond her small town.
Why has a bright, inquisitive, friendly girl like Louisa limited her life to such a small radius? In Jojo Moyes’ bestselling novel, it’s revealed she was perhaps a victim of sexual assault during high school. The novel doesn’t share the exact details, but recounts a blurry memory in which she was drinking with a bunch of boys and attacked in some way — a night the protagonist is still processing, but one that affects the choices she has made in her life.
Says Louisa in the book, “I told him I saw their faces every time I went anywhere beyond the town, and how Patrick and Mum and Dad and my small life had been just fine for me, with all their problems and limitations. They had let me feel safe.”
The novel goes on to recount how Louisa’s eclectic style of dress was also a result of that night in a local hedge maze: “I had worked out who I was, and it was someone very different from the giggling girl who got drunk with strangers. It was someone who wore nothing that could be construed as suggestive.”
According to the film’s director, Thea Sharrock, she and Moyes, who also adapted the screenplay, tried valiantly to include the storyline into the film. Sharrock says when she first pitched her take on the film, she made an impassioned speech to MGM that it must be included in the story.
WANT MORE EW? Subscribe now to keep up with the latest in movies, television and music.
“I made this huge speech about why it was so important and why it was so telling about her and about him,” Sharrock says in a recent interview. “But every single time we tried to put in the film it suddenly became a film about a girl who may or may not have been raped. And that is not what I believe the story is about. I think in the two-hour movie that has already some big issues I didn’t suddenly want it to turn [the movie] into an issue film. I wanted it to remain the universal love story that can be watched by nearly anybody.”
As a reader of the book, Louisa’s possible rape provides a very clear explanation for how she lives her life and why she is the way she is — yet Sharrock and Moyes felt her character was just as three-dimensional and interesting without the background story thrown into the film.
Simplifying her backstory may have also allowed for a more joyous film — a film that doesn’t define Louisa as a victim.
“In the book you’ve got much more time to explain so much more,” adds Sharrock. “I didn’t want the character to be defined as Lou Clark, the girl you know who went through this traumatic experience. That’s not who Lou Clark is. She’s kind of bigger than that.”
She continues, “We had to make a choice and Jojo was 150 percent with me. We all tried to make it work but it altered it completely. So it was a choice that we had to make for the sake of the film rather than for the sake of adapting the book.”
Me Before You opened in theaters this past weekend and has earned $18.3 million at the box office.