The internet is hyped about the big-screen remake of "It," which will star Bill Skarsgård as the iconic villain Pennywise the Clown. But while everyone’s in a tizzy over whether the movie will capture Pennywise's zany menace, who we should really be worried about is "It'"s sole heroine Beverly Marsh.
For those as-yet-uninitiated to the so-called "Losers' Club," "It" was a 1986 horror novel written by Stephen King which counts as one of his most popular ever, in part due to its terrifying clown villain at the center. The only prior screen adaptation dropped in 1990 with a two-part TV miniseries, in which Tim Curry played the sinister circus character with some real teeth, so to speak, so the fan frenzy over his re-imagining is understandable.
At the heart of the story, though, were seven kids who banded together to defeat Derry's bully boys and put a stop to Pennywise's monstrous child murder spree back in 1958, and reunite three decades later when the kid killings start anew.
Of the group, there was just one girl, Beverly, and her arc in both the literary and small-screen versions was riddled with complexities, from suffering lifelong physical and emotional abuse to grappling with her burgeoning sexuality to the responsibility of being the one to take down the town’s tormentor.
With the remake (which will be broken up into two films, with the first coming out next year), Beverly can finally be a more fully-realized character, someone whose characterization doesn't come solely from her relationships with other men. (Spoilers ahead).
First of all, there’s the matter of *that* scene.
The TV version chose to omit one of Beverly’s most controversial moments, and given the camp nature of that take, that was probably a good call — maybe the new version should nix it too.
Bevy (played by Emily Perkins as a child and Annette O'Toole as an adult) lived with her single father, who raised his hand to her on numerous occasions and mentally traumatized her over her growing interest in boys. After the group was able to first make the fear-manipulating beast retreat, they promised to return if It ever did (spoiler: it did). But before they went their separate ways into the temporarily blissful forgetfulness of adulthood, Beverly slept with each and every single one of her friends in sequence right there in the sewer.
For some readers, it was a significant moment of redemption for her, who’d been so smothered and shamed for even the most innocent adolescent impulses. The theory there is that, just as the rest of the children had to come to grips with their individual fears, Bev had to confront that patriarchy-instilled resistance to womanhood by embracing her sexuality … times six. Plus, it marked the physical difference in all of them becoming adults and leaving their troubles behind. Supposedly she was the only one who could help them all get there. Shrug.
There are hints that this was what King intended — the fact that her first encounter with It was via blood in the bathroom (a period reference as obvious as all of “Carrie”) and the title of the story itself (“It,” as in doing it), for example.
Critics of the scene find it incredibly troublesome that the one girl of the group feels the need to have sex with all of them. To them, it plays into a litany of social stigmas about expectations of friendly guy-girl relationships and reinforces the idea that young women have some cosmic duty to make men out of boys in the carnal sense. Or that she owed them her body for being nice to her when her dad wasn’t.
It’s hard to even imagine a cinematic depiction that could possibly avoid this interpretation, so it’s probably best to cut — or at least alter — this moment from the adaptation once again. There are better ways to have her embrace her sensuality, aren’t there?
The abuse factor should also get an underhaul.
There’s no doubt that Beverly's story is going to involve some violent mistreatment by both her father and her adult partner Tom. To exclude that aspect would be a complete divergence from the text, so it’s unfortunately just unavoidable. Even so, though, the new “It” definitely needs to dial it down a few notches for the sake of watchability.
In the TV adaptation, Beverly was victimized in an alarming number of her main scenes. When we first met her, she was quickly smacked by Tom for contradicting him in front of a co-worker; in her second scene, a flashback, she was slapped by her father for receiving a gushy poem from a classmate. And on and on and on it went, with continuous instances of her being hit, berated, or otherwise wronged by the men in her life. At a certain point, the whole damn thing just turned into a three-hour trigger warning.
If the point of this narrative element is to show that she’s a survivor, which she is, there are far less inflammatory ways of getting audiences to understand the heartbreaking circumstances she’s dealing with than to occupy the majority of her screentime being abused. Because while this trauma is an important part of her backstory, it doesn't have to be the sole thing that defines her,
Oh, and the love triangle stuff can scram, too.
The quiet dilemma Beverly has about her feelings for both Bill Denbrough and Ben Hanscom isn’t the problem. It’s actually fairly representative of the reality that someone in her position might have multiple crushes. What we don’t need, though, is for Bev to spend whatever time she’s not getting knocked around to being reduced to goo-eyed mush, especially when there’s so much more to her character than her relationship to the men in her life.
Consider a few things about the 1990 version. For the first 30 minutes, the only thing we know about her was that Ben was infatuated with her and wrote a haiku about her hair burning "winter fire." Even when she was inducted into the Losers' Club, she got Bill’s “approval” after they got caught up in some sappy staring contest, which detracted from the fact that she was the most competent slingshot marksman of the group (a ridiculous weapon, of course, but it is set in a ‘50s childhood), and thus had as much reason to be on the mission to take out Pennywise as anyone else. Plus, whenever they went out to the movies as a unit, they made sure to include an extended shot of her precariously perched between both of the “B” boys.
The attention given to this minor plot point was a little excessive. And while it's hard to imagine that the upcoming movie will cut the love triangle completely, it shouldn't overshadow Beverly's vital role in the group either.
She inspired Eleven, so now Eleven can inspire her.
Stephen King’s “It” was a seminal piece of inspiration for Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” and I can forgive the fact that the show totally boy-washed its version of one of Bev’s most iconic moments — Will's bathroom scene — because it gave us Eleven (played by Millie Bobby Brown), a girl whose inner power was literally electric and meshed together the mental might of Beverly Marsh with the supernatural power of King’s other female badass, Carrie. If “Stranger Things” could make its leading lady a fist-pumpable phenom, so can “It.”
Especially since they have something in common: Rather than taking place in the '50s like the book and mini-series, the first part of the "It" remake will also take place in the 80s, which only bolsters the idea that Bevy is due for some major modernization.
Actress Sophia Lillis will play young Beverly in the 2017 film, and this could be a breakthrough role for Lillis in the same way Eleven was for Brown. But that's only if her character can have her heroics define her above all else.
Because thanks to all of the above-mentioned issues, it’s easy to forget that Beverly Marsh had a lot of fight and grit in her and that she wasn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and get shit done. Like Eleven, she was the most talented kid of the group (in Bev's case, she had a deadshot aim) and doesn’t deserve for that to be her tertiary characteristic the way it was in the TV version.
Eleven had a romantic arc too, and she certainly dealt with some emotional turmoil by way of “Papa.” But a lot was left unsaid and unseen but still understood on both fronts, while the majority of her time was spent being a BOSS. So, why can’t Beverly, too? Short answer: No reason. There's no reason at all why Beverly Marsh can't own "It" this time.