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How Florence Pugh’s ‘Dune’ Character Plays a Key Role in the Larger Story

Stories are important, yes, but so are those who tell them!

Florence Pugh as Amy March in Greta Gerwig's Little Women

Just last week, Vanity Fair released the very first images from Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two, the sequel to 2021’s Dune: Part One—adapted from Frank Herbert’s literary saga of the same name, a true pillar of the space opera genre.

In those Vanity Fair images, we got new looks at characters introduced in the first movie: Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides and Zendaya’s Chani, sporting the blue-in-blue eyes of those who have spent time on Arrakis and breathed in the Spice in its air, just like Rebecca Ferguson’s Lady Jessica and Javier Bardem’s Stilgar, the leader of the Fremen. 

There’s Gurney Halleck, played by Josh Brolin, looking bloody and ready to fight some Harkonnens, and then the bad guys themselves: Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Harkonnen and his nephew Glossu “Beast” Rabban, played by Dave Bautista.

But there were also some oh-so-very anticipated new faces, including one we actually do not see—that of Austin Butler, who plays Baron Harkonnen’s other nephew and heir, the ruthless Feyd-Rautha. Léa Seydoux has also joined the cast as Lady Margot, a member of the Bene Gesserit who, like Jessica, was installed in one of the galaxy’s noble families to serve the Sisterhood’s interest. 

And of course there’s Princess Irulan, played by the one and only Florence Pugh. Honestly, this movie is everything I’ve ever wanted and more. Thank you Denis Villeneuve for my life.

Princess Irulan is actually a pretty important character in the Dune universe, though not in the way one might imagine. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see what Villeneuve has decided to do with her character. But for now, let’s take a look at what we know about Irulan from the canon of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

So who is Princess Irulan in Dune?

As her title might suggest, Irulan is the daughter of the ruling emperor of the galaxy—Shaddam IV of House Corrino, the 81st Padishah Emperor—and a sister of Anirul, a Bene Gesserit who has passed away before the start of Paul Atreides’ story. Irulan is the eldest of the emperor’s five daughters; her sisters are Chalice, Wensicia, Josifa, and Rugi.

Like several other female characters who appear in Dune, especially those from high-born backgrounds, Irulan is known to have been trained in the Bene Gesserit ways. She could have been a Reverend Mother like Gaius Helen Mohiam, whom we saw at the start of Dune: Part One (played by Charlotte Rampling), but her abilities are often questioned by other characters throughout the books.

Lady Jessica, played by Rebecca Ferguson, in one of Paul's visions in Dune: Part One
Lady Jessica, whose power only stands to grow with the continued exposure to melange, is one of those who calls Irulan’s abilities into question (Warner Bros.)

The main thing to know about Princess Irulan—besides her Bene Gesserit training and her court-induced tendency to scheme and plot—is that she’s an extremely competent and prolific historian. In fact, in the universe of Dune, she has chronicled the events of Paul’s life through more than 15 works (that have been named and that we know of).

In the books, the entire story is told through the words of Princess Irulan. Each chapter opens with a quote from one of her works, letting you know that what you’re reading has already happened—playing into those themes of prophetic dreams and destiny that echo throughout the entire Dune saga. 

Villeneuve hasn’t transposed this in Dune: Part One, choosing instead to open with a truly harrowing voice telling us that “dreams are messages from the deep” and then Chani describing Arrakis before a sequence that tells us how things aren’t exactly going well between the Fremen and the Harkonnens. Still, with Pugh now on screen, we might see one or two nods to this narrator role that Irulan holds.

What happens to Princess Irulan in Dune?

Irulan’s story is inextricably tied to Paul’s—something that makes telling it a spoiler for pretty much everything that is going to happen in Dune: Part Two. If you’d like to sit down in your local cinema as spoiler-free as possible, then I suggest finishing your reading right now. If you have already gone through the books and want to refresh your memory or don’t mind knowing what happens, then the next paragraphs are for you.

Spoilers ahead for Dune: Part Two

Paul Atreides, played by Timothée Chalamet, on the days House Atreides leaves its home planet of Caladan
You can’t really tell Irulan’s story without also telling Paul’s (Warner Bros.)

In the books, Irulan only appears in person towards the end of the first Dune novel, once the emperor himself intervenes to quiet the unrest on Arrakis, which has disrupted production of the ever-important Spice. 

When Paul finds himself negotiating with Shaddam, he sets harsh terms that he’s more than capable of pressing for: he wants the Imperial armies to leave Arrakis and for Shaddam to step down from the throne while also giving him Irulan’s hand in marriage. She is the key to Paul ascending to the role of emperor, and the last member of House Corrino to be in close proximity to the throne, since Paul will not have children with her. 

Now, Irulan appears as a rather distant figure in the Dune novels and we don’t get to delve much deeper into her personality and her thoughts. She seems to accept Paul’s scheme while the emperor initially resists it, though later books will show her as not entirely happy with this situation. Irulan also doesn’t step onto the page that often, since she only shows up near the end of Dune and is present in just a handful of scenes in the following novels.

Then again, Villeneuve already expanded Chani’s role in the first Dune film and has stated that he plans on expanding more roles in the second one—so it’s possible that he’s done the same with Irulan. 

After all, looking at the background of that single Vanity Fair image of Pugh, it doesn’t really seem like she’s anywhere on Arrakis—especially considering she arrives once the fighting has escalated. And it also doesn’t look like the inside of a Spacing Guild ship, especially considering how she’s dressed. So maybe we’ll get some scenes of her on Kaitain, the planet that houses the imperial court.  

We’ll find out when Dune: Part Two hits theaters on November 3.

(featured image: Sony Pictures)

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Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.