For this week’s Femme Fatale Friday, as it is my Birthday Week, I have chosen one of my all-time favorite characters to feature. Gillian Holroyd is the witchy protagonist of the 1958 classic romantic comedy Bell, Book and Candle. This film is based on the stage play of the same name, as it was common in this era to turn stage plays into films.
Gillian is a witch who owns a store of antiquities and the apartments above it. Shep, the male lead, recently moved into one of the apartments above her shop before the film’s beginning. It is not long before Shep is brought into the whirlwind of Gillian’s chaotic life. He even is so enchanted by her that he goes to the club he knows she will be spending the evening in while dragging his fiancee along with him.
Gillian is unsurprised to see Shep had followed her but is surprised to learn that his fiancée is the woman that she loathed in college. His fiancee is the classic uptight bitchy woman who is way too conservative. Gillian has long been the wild child who was free-spirited in her approach to life. In college, we learn that she would always go barefoot around campus. This is something that was reviled by Shep’s fiancee, who actually got Gillian in trouble for this!
It is after this that Gillian decided that she would use magick to win Shep’s heart. She used a Christmas present from her brother, as this is set around the Winter holidays, to bring an author Shep wished to sign to his publication house to New York. Next, she spent an evening with Shep talking and using her magick to enthrall him even further. She famously hums and sings to her cat familiar, Pyewacket, to enact her spell upon Shep.
Over the next sequences, we see Shep leaving his fiancee in the New Year in order to begin a whirlwind romance with Gillian. We also get to see Gillian soften, as she developed real feelings for him. Gillian even confessed to her true nature as a witch, which Shep does not believe until it is proven in front of his very eyes. This confession also proved to be the undoing of their relationship. However, there is a moment of irony where Gillian tried to call forth Pyewacket to use his help to cast another spell. The irony is that Pyewacket has no desire to work with her anymore because she had fallen in love. You see, in this film’s mythology witches are not allowed to fall in love truly (only lust). That means that when Gillian falls in love, she lost all of her magical powers!
At the end of the film, we learn that Gillian has turned her shop into a flower store instead of the darker antiquities shop she originally owned. Shep comes to her to return Pyewacket, who had appeared in his office at work. He learned then that she was no longer a witch, when he saw her cry this is confirmed (because in this universe witches also cannot cry). So at the end of the film, the two star-crossed lovers are reunited!
I hope that you have enjoyed learning about one of my favorite characters of all time. I also want to mention that I have long wondered if the reason that rebellious witch Gillian Owens is named as such in Practical Magic is that she is similar to Gillian Holroyd in personality. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is Gillian and Pyewacket. I found the image on https://100witches.tumblr.com/post/177705419943/90-gillian-holroyd-kim-novak-from-the-1958-dark.
- Bell, Book and Candle (1958)