It’s possible no one has been as articulate recently on the nuances of consent as the actress Lysette Anthony. Famously hailed by David Bailey as “the face of the Eighties”, she won parts in leading TV dramas while still in her teens and blazed her way into wider global recognition (still only 19) as Princess Lyssa in the cult film Krull – meaning half the men of my generation claim her as their first love. I remember her beautiful, heart-shaped, innocent face, framed by pre-Raphaelite ringlets, beamed into the Pelling household every Sunday night as we sat gripped by the BBC’s 1983 production of Dombey and Son. A little later Woody Allen directed her in his acclaimed film Husbands and Wives. It’s fair to say Anthony inspired a fair bit of envy in my schoolgirl bosom, while I was battling spots and puppy fat.
Four decades later, I’m suffused with indignation on her behalf, not jealousy. In October 2017, as the extent of Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behaviour and assaults on young women became evident, she revealed that she had been raped and then serially preyed upon by him when she was a young actress and he was emerging as a hotshot Hollywood producer. She told in harrowing detail in the Times (and, subsequently, in other publications) how the film producer had pushed his way into her Hammersmith flat and, ignoring her protestations, “rammed me up against the coat rack in my tiny hall and started fumbling at my gown. He was trying to kiss me and shove inside me. It was disgusting. Finally, I just gave up.” Afterwards she says she lay rigid in the bath. “I remember staring at my toes. I could not cry. A little of me died that morning.”
I looked about twelve… and I was handed over to Weinstein in a very posh hotel
Like so many women who’ve had similar experiences, she blamed herself. Nor was this the only occasion. He raped her again in Cannes just as his power was surging to the “God” status once assigned him by Meryl Streep. She says about that instance: “[it was] nowhere fancy. He chased me in plain view down the main street to my bargain hotel, shoving me into my tiny Formica room, onto the single bed. From there it began,” she continues, “the relentless stalking, the summons. For years.” Though she didn’t actually frame what had happened to her as rape until years later. “I did all I could to normalise the nightmare. I pretended it was a ‘friend’ thing. It wasn’t.”
So, you can imagine how excruciating it was to ask her to talk about what happened and its subsequent effects. I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing so were it not for the fact that we met and forged a bond seven years ago when we discussed a possible business project. The venture never happened because Anthony was suddenly offered a job on Channel 4’s long-running drama Hollyoaks and almost immediately departed for Liverpool and soap opera fame, winning an Inside Soap Award for her role as Marnie Nightingale. She was working on Hollyoaks when the Weinstein storm gathered pace and broke – becoming the fifth woman to come forward and the only British actress to speak out against the producer. “I gave my name and waived away anonymity.” (She says she could not have lived with herself if she hadn’t, when US actresses had stepped forward and been pilloried by Weinstein’s PR machine). As if this weren’t trauma enough, it transpired she’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s when she started on the soap but had kept the news quiet, for fear it would be used against her. “And it has been,” she says.
Early this autumn we reconnected over social media (where else) and I asked if she’d consider talking to me about the thorny issue of consent for Perspective – and also about the consequences of holding abusers to power. She agreed. When we met in person the first thing I noticed was that the woman I remembered was still there before me: proud, defiant, beautiful, clever and gloriously funny. (Anthony is so hilariously scurrilous in conversation that much of our discussion had to be excised on the grounds of decency.) But there’s no doubt she is scarred by the past and bruised by the present. She told me in no uncertain terms: “I was punished and my career has been destroyed.” It’s hard to go into detail because Anthony is involved in ongoing litigation, but she believes she was being shut down. She said she subsequently discovered that requests for interviews with her from huge US television companies, promising “tens of millions of viewers”, were shunted away without her knowledge. In January 2022 her character was killed off and she left the soap after six years and wide acclaim for her acting in the role. She has subsequently discovered she was being labelled as “struggling” and that aspersions were being cast on her mental health.
It’s fair to say Anthony has no illusions about the TV or film industries. She’s had time to think about the complicity of multiple individuals in terms of turning her into “fodder” for Weinstein. At the time she innocently thought people were looking out for her. As she puts it, “I had been brought up by nuns ostensibly to work hard and do your best,” so when she was sent to NYC as part of publicising Krull she did what she was told. And what Anthony was told – by a senior publicist – was: “You’re to have dinner with this man, this evening, it will do you good.” She notes that: “I looked about twelve… and I was handed over to Weinstein in a very posh hotel.” On that early occasion, she says she didn’t really note the producer because she had been so thrilled to meet an alluring racing driver on the plane in the first class cabin (the first time she had turned left). It was only much later she realised this was Weinstein’s modus operandi: to target naïve young women via his film industry contacts, insinuate some sort of “friendship”, and then, when their guard was down, to strike.
This is the notable thing about Weinstein’s victims: they were groomed by him and then they often felt guilty and complicit in their own abuse. Anthony recently said this in an interview she gave to the Daily Mail: “I don’t call that sex. It was rape. But did I lie there? Yes. Did he take his clothes off? Yes. Did I have to look at that disgusting body? It’s not about beauty — you can find beauty all over the place. It’s about consent, about wanting to be there. I did not want to be there. This wasn’t about sex. This was about domination. Of course, people said: “Where was your dignity?” I had no dignity. That was taken a long time before.” She told me fiercely she now wants people to know all the grim details, the horror of being coerced into sex with a monster: “I want people to recoil every time I talk about Weinstein. I want to talk about stale semen and blackened pustules and rolls of skin.”
She also wants people to understand that Weinstein had genuine power through his influence in the film industry and the huge amount of money at stake – and the people who felt their livelihoods depended on him. He was a bully who bulldozed others into complicity. Meanwhile, other went along with it because of their own deep-seated misogyny and belief that actresses and models were legitimate prey (as we’ve seen in documentaries about the period like Beauty and the Creep, which aired allegations against French model agency boss, Gérald Marie). As Anthony chillingly puts it about Weinstein: “This is not some ugly bloke who just got a bit handsy in a sweet shop and went, ‘You know what, I’ll fuck her because I can.’ This is a predator on a level that is… let’s say Hannibal Lector. This is a man who devours his prey.” But people chose to ignore it, because it wasn’t the classic movie rape scenario, “at knifepoint”. But, in retrospect, Anthony says there was a metaphorical “gun to your head” that made her feel: “‘If you don’t [go along with this], your life will be destroyed. And more to the point, the closest person to us would be completely destroyed too,” in Lysette’s case, her son Jimi (named after Hendrix and a budding rock musician himself). “And so we sacrificed ourselves, actually.”
It’s worth nothing that as soon as Anthony did speak out, her life was indeed destroyed. She hasn’t worked since Hollyoaks killed off her character and has just sold her London home, so she can move to a cheaper part of the UK and continue as a single parent, to put a roof over her son’s head. Anthony describes herself as a warning to others not to speak out: “the severed head at the gate”. But she says she couldn’t not tell her story, she felt such a duty to try and protect her son’s generation. Jimi, I’m delighted to hear, is incredibly proud of his mother’s decision to speak out.
I can’t help noting how much the nuns from her childhood school and Catholicism in general filter into Anthony’s conversation. She no longer has faith, but the structures that were instilled in her when young still resonate and she talks vividly – painfully – about the mortification of the flesh: “There’s a wonderful line in… Julian Barnes and he says, ‘I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.’ And I feel like that. There was a place to go, there was a sense of logic, life is hard… All this iconography of bleeding nails and flesh being torn and suffering, basically.” Then she adds wistfully, “But we are also told that if you say three Hail Marys and repeat the rosary, etc, that it all will be fine. Is that not the code? So that is what I believed.” It’s clear the consolation of absolution is something she rather yearns for.
I just wish I could say something properly consoling. There is one bright flame of joy: she has recently found loving support in the form of a rekindled romance with the actor Marcus Gilbert, whom she first met in 1990 on the set of A Ghost in Monte Carlo. And she does not regret speaking out, because it means that despite her devastated finances and lost career, she retains something more important: her moral compass. A compass that is driving her to delve ever more deeply into what happened to her. Expect further bulletins…
Rowan Pelling is co-editor at Perspective