Archive for the ‘drama’ Category

Rising from the Ashes

nowhere-boy-anne-marie-duffIf I wanted to boost the SEO for Simple Pleasures part 4 I’d be writing this evening about Jim Morrison, The Snowman, lonelygirl15, Dylan Thomas, Lara Croft and Albert Camus, but I’ve got other stuff in mind, first and foremost The Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley, London N2. I’m just back from there where we went for a family matinee outing to watch Glorious 39.

Glorious 39 is considerably less glorious than Inglourious Basterds – basically it belongs on TV like many BBC Films ‘movies’ – but the Phoenix itself was its usual blaze of Art Deco glory, gilded but faded but ready to rise again in even greater splendor…

…which is why two nights ago I arranged a preview screening of Nowhere Boy at the Phoenix. It was just the second public screening of Sam Taylor-Wood’s new film about the young John Lennon and it was raising money towards the Phoenix Restoration Fund. The Phoenix is the UK’s oldest purpose-built cinema and to celebrate the centenary of its 1910 opening the charity trust which runs it is striving to complete a major restoration by its 100th birthday next year. (If you feel like donating a couple of quid, you can do that here – we’ve got 90 grand left to raise to release the lottery grant needed to do the job.)

Anne-Marie Duff – of Channel 4′s Shameless, Film4′s Garage and The Virgin Queen fame (especially Shameless! pretty much the best TV drama of the last decade) – kindly pitched up to do a Q&A after the screening and gave a great insight into her intelligent and feeling approach to acting. She plays Julia, John Lennon’s mother, who found herself giving him up as a child but later helping spark his musical genius. The scene of Julia teaching John to play the banjo and then his swift but hard-earned mastery of the instrument is thrilling.

Film4′s Nowhere Boy was rousing. I didn’t like Matt Greenhalgh’s script for Control but this was a story well told and moving. Anne-Marie as Julia and Kristin Scott-Thomas as John’s aunt Mimi (who raised him) were both powerful and affecting, making sense of a tragic love tussle. But the big revelation was the charismatic Aaron Johnson as the young Lennon, old school charisma and strikingness on screen.

Sam Taylor-Wood came in to visit us a couple of years ago at Channel 4 to talk about her work and inspirations, and showed us a short art video depicting the decomposition of a partridge and a peach – very impactful in a short, sharp way. A feature is a very different prospect and she pulled this one off with energy and aplomb. I suspect her interactions with the actors were lacking in experience but the thesps were all good enough to make up for any wooliness in that aspect of the direction.

One of my first insights into Channel 4 was in 1988 when a programme called Lennon /Goldman: the making of a best-seller was being cut in Solus Productions where I was working, my first job. It was about the rather grubby biographer of Elvis and Lenny Bruce and his biog of Lennon which was due to come out shortly after. The director, Binia Tymieniecka, kindly gave me a copy of  it, The Lives of John Lennon, which I dug out after the Phoenix show.  I could see from a cinema ticket bookmark that the last time I had dug it out was in April 1994 when Stephen Woolley (who I believe used to work at the Phoenix) & Nik Powell’s Backbeat came out. The inscription reads: You’ve heard the gossip. You’ve seen the rough cut. Now read the book. The gossip and the aforementioned insight involved Goldman pulling all his contributions from the documenatry at the 11th hour (not sure what kind of C4 contract allowed for that kind of veto, but Channel 4 was still in its naively golden first decade then).

This week (Tuesday) was the 29th anniversary of John’s death. I remember it clearly – I was in Tijuana in Mexico and saw the headlines in Spanish, struggling to translate them exactly. I associate that time with realising for the first time my eyesight was dodgy, taking off my specs and realising the degree of my myopia (your youropia, his hisopia), getting a bit upset about it as a person who’s always been visually driven, through still and moving pictures. There’s a lot of play in Nowhere Boy about John’s short-sightedness – Mimi’s always reminding him to put on his specs and he’s always taking them off again as soon as he gets out of range. He has to put them on when Paul (superbly played by the fresh-faced Thomas Sangster) is teaching him guitar. The chemistry between John and Paul is palpable. On Tuesday I was listening, trusty ol’ iPod on shuffle, on my walk home past the Phoenix to Yer Blues from the White Album and was greatly struck by the haunting words he wrote in India and recorded just a few miles from the Phoenix at Abbey Road:

Yes I’m lonely wanna die
Yes I’m lonely wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why

In the morning wanna die
In the evening wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why

My mother was of the sky
My father was of the earth
But I am of the universe
And you know what it’s worth
I’m lonely wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why

The eagle picks my eye
The worm he licks my bones
I feel so suicidal
Just like Dylan’s Mr. Jones
Lonely wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why

Black cloud crossed my mind
Blue mist round my soul
Feel so suicidal
Even hate my rock and roll
Wanna die yeah wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why.

The-Snowman

I'm coming down fast but I'm miles above you

Omagh – Adam Gee Archive #1

As I’m becoming an older git with a dog’s age of doing cross-platform under my belt, I’m becoming conscious of my work disappearing into the mists of time (hence my recent archiving of MindGym in this august journal, at least it will be August tomorrow). Next week a site I did to mark Paul Greengrass‘ drama ‘Omagh’ being broadcast on Channel 4 in 2004 is about to be ‘migrated’. I suspect that means ‘knackered’ so I’ve just nabbed a few shots for posterity, a couple of which I’ll archive here. This one was a real labour of love (my wife is Northern Irish, my kids are Irish, I filmed in Omagh in the wake of the bomb).

[Happy days, working with designer Mark Limb and producers Kiminder Bedi and Katie Streten]. Contibutors included director Paul Greengrass (who sent me his contribution from the set of ‘The Bourne Supremecy’), actor Adrian Dunbar, singers Brian Kennedy and Tommy Sands, writers Nell McCafferty and Colin Bateman, comedian Jeremy Hardy, nurses, churchmen, shopworkers, all reflecting on what, if anything, positive came out of the bombing of Omagh from the perspective of 5 years on…

the Home screen

the Home screen

Adrian Dunbar - actor

Adrian Dunbar - actor

Paul Greengrass - director

Paul Greengrass - director

Brian Kennedy - singer

Brian Kennedy - singer

Creds 22‘Omagh’ will be repeated this coming month on Channel 4 to mark the 10th anniversary of the outrage.

What is it worth?

Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills

Holding Hands: Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills & Neil Young

We parked up by Goldhawk Road tube (always echoes of Jimmy the Mod for me) and walked back past the Pie, Mash, Liquor and Eel shop to my most unloved venue in London, the Empire in Shepherd’s Bush. Stephen Still’s blast from the past included his underground classic ’51.5076 0.134352′ and concluded with ‘For What It’s Worth’ which resonated in a particular way after another week of global economic disintegration. What is it worth?

There’s something happening here
[the day before yesterday rounds off a 20% FTSE fall]

What it is ain’t exactly clear
[although I think we’ve all got a good sense of broadly what territory we’re in – how we got there is a bit more confounding]

There’s a man with a gun over there
[currently a cold-hearted woman, life-long member of the NRA: “our leaders, our national leaders, are sending soldiers out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan.”]

Telling me I got to beware
[are they really going to elect a man who keeps calling the electorate “my friends” in a manner devoid of warmth or friendship?]

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
[there’s a real opportunity here, with the merry-go-round ground to a halt, to get off the ride that goes nowhere]

Paranoia strikes deep

Into your life it will creep
[anxiety is seeping out of every opening crack]

It starts when you’re always afraid

[yet fear is what holds us back individually and collectively]

You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down

Stop, hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look what’s going down

What’s that sound? It’s mud falling on a coffin lid. It’s ancient song shot through with deepest pain. It’s the sound of a single man burying 20,000 bodies one by one. On Tuesday Rev. Leslie Hardman MBE died. He featured as a key character  in a docudrama, The Relief of Belsen, commissioned by Channel 4 which was shown almost a year ago to the day (15.X.07).  He was one of the first Allied soldiers (an army chaplain) in to the Bergen-Belsen death camp in North-West Germany when it was liberated in May 1945. Auschwitz had been liberated by the Russians a couple of months of months earlier but it was Belsen that gave us in Britain our first terrifying view of what was going down. This was Richard Dimbleby’s report from the camp…

“Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which … The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them … Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live … A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms, then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days.

This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.”

Leslie Hardman was a man who knew what’s worth what. He insisted on burying each of the 20,000 corpses that confronted him as an individual with an individual ceremony (no question of mass burial). He restored in death the dignity they had been denied in life.

In a tribute to him on Radio 4 this morning, a resonant phrase from Kierkegaard (via psychiatrist Viktor Frankl) was cited to capture the man he was : The door to happiness opens outwards. 

Leslie Hardman dealt with the chaos he experienced in the front-line by dedicating himself to the well-being of others.

As Jonathan Sacks (the Chief Rabbi of the UK) put it on the same radio programme: He Chose Life. Now I always thought  – and this was reinforced by the Glasgow office of Channel 4 which has the words engraved on the glass of the entrance – that “Choose Life” comes from FilmFour’s Trainspotting. But apparently it comes from Moses in the Old Testament: ” I place before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. … Choose life that you and your descendants shall live”

  (which echoes what his predecessor and my namesake was told:  “You may choose for yourself, for it is given to you.”)

Now Jim (the God, not the Mod), much though I respect him, summarised his approach as being to “get his kicks before the whole shithouse goes up”. As things fall apart, I’d say the rock-striking prophet is a better bet than the pose-striking rock god: Choose Life. Choose sustainable living. Choose actually creating something instead of gambling nothing. Choose holding hands not holding hostages. Choose what’s going up. Choose what’s of real worth.

Hunger

Steve McQueen directing Hunger

Steve McQueen directing Hunger

I have to admit I was a bit worried when I heard Channel 4 were making a film about Bobby Sands and the Maze hunger strike. Having sat through shite like Ken Loach and Rebecca O’Brien’s ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ I feared the worst. But ‘Hunger‘, by Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen, is an artist’s film of intense emotional impact and real insight. And it belongs on the big screen, its compositions and rhythms fill the space. That it is a London born film-maker, a black film-maker, that provides such insight into so fraught and sensitive an Irish story is all the more remarkable.

It was commissioned by my colleague Jan Younghusband, Commissioning Editor for Arts and Performance at Channel 4. She is a woman with a purist and committed approach to art, as I learned from working with her on projects like Big Art Project and 4mations. ‘Hunger’ was five years in the making and conception. Through her work on the Turner Prize Jan came into contact with McQueen, hooked up from time to time in a cafe on Old Compton Street and gradually homed in on this most demanding of subject-matter. Film 4, in the person of Peter Carlton (who I worked with last year on My Movie Mash-up/Faintheart, which amply demonstrated his ballsy approach) came in to back the film as a theatric offering. I have to say, having just emerged from a viewing of the finished film, I couldn’t be prouder to be part of an organisation that creates a work like this.

I walk past Bobby Sands regularly in the form of a Christ-like statue of him in Newry, the town in County Down where my wife was born. She grew up in Northern Ireland in the 70s and early 80s – I can hardly imagine how she and her sisters will watch this film. Whatever you feel about the politics behind Bobby Sands (of which most of our (British) population is incredibly ignorant, and was so back in 1980 – as a suburban London teenager it was right off my radar beyond what I gleaned from Stiff Little Fingers) the portrayal of political conviction and of inhuman bigotry is as powerful as it comes. Thatcher’s voice, heard in voice-over punctuating the film from time to time, comes across as truly monstrous. Everything about its coldness and stridency speaks of the huge cultural gulf between the Lincoln grocery and a family gathering in West Belfast or Gweedore, Donegal (where the key flashback scene of the film takes place) or pretty much anywhere in Ireland or an Irish home.

My wife recalls how her life and the lives of all around her were overshadowed by the hunger strike. A time punctuated by the staggered deaths (they deliberately spaced the starts of their hunger-strikes two weeks apart to maximise the impact of their sacrifice). Looking back from the last few years it is only now she truly recognises what a troubled, hard childhood she and her contemporaries lived through. A couple of years ago we were in the (old) Tate with the children. They were copying some of the pictures in the Pop Art rooms. As we emerged from the gallery I noticed my wife was really upset. I asked her what was up and it turned out walking through a room of Richard Hamilton images of soldiers on the streets of Belfast [The State 1993] had really disturbed her and awakened ghosts. (Richard Hamilton of course also portrayed Bobby Sands draped in blanket in his picture ‘The Citizen’ [1981-83].)

When I first visited Newry in 1986 I was greeted by the most surreal of experiences – walking down the high street I watched British troops, armed with machine guns and equipped with radios, ducking in and out of shop doorways between little old ladies struggling along with their shopping bags. Nothing in my North London childhood had given me the slightest clue that such dark comedy was to be had on the streets of ‘my country’.

On my way out of the screening I met a woman who looked pretty shaken by the experience (naturally enough). It turned out her daughter works at the Channel and she comes from Crossmaglen, Co. Armagh. Needless to say she knew the one family I know in Crossmaglen, as that is the way of Ireland. I knew the hospital she was born in in Newry, Daisyhill aka Crazyhill, as my wife was born there too. I knew her school in Kilkeel as my wife went there too. It’s a small, connected place. In her family home this woman I got talking to has some of the tiny notes smuggled out of the Maze – that’s how connected it is.

I thought the starvation in Sean Penn’s ‘Into the Wild‘ was painful to watch and moving but it goes nowhere near the forensic observation of this film. The skeletal bodies are resonant of Auschwitz – and the crucifixion. And yet the film captures something incredible, something transcendent about the human spirit and will.

Towards the end of the film we see a flashback of the Belfast boy on a coach traveling over the border into Donegal to attend a cross-country race put on by the Christian Brothers (purveyors, as Pete McCarthy amusingly put it, of “the carrot and stick method of Education – only without the carrot”). Behind the face of the young Bobby is a blurred swoosh of gold, low sunlight on the ferns and bogland. It represents a paradise to the starving man.

Recalling when I first went to that place – Gweedore – brings a smile to my lips. I’d followed the roadmap and came to what I thought was not far from Gweedore. I stopped at a junction, reminiscent of where Cary Grant gets off the bus in ‘North-by-Northwest’ and gets attacked by a crop-spraying plane. There was a small shop at the junction, outside of which stood an old fella in a flat cap. I wound down the window and asked him where Gweedore was. You’re in it. Where? All around. He was trying to explain the concept of a ‘townland’ which was foreign to me. ‘Town’ I get. ‘Land’ and ‘country’ I get. But this was something in-between, half way to the imagination, between the word on the map and the ground beneath me was a cultural gap and an imaginative leap. ‘Dhun na nGall’ (Donegal) means ‘fort of the foreigners’ – foreigners have given the people there a tough time since way back – from the marauding Vikings (who probably explain my wife’s love of the battle and fighting scenes in ‘Gladiator’) to the screws beating the living shit out of Bobby Sands and fellow prisoners with their truncheons and tattooed knuckles. The same shit these men smeared on the walls of their cells in an astonishing act of defiance for over 4 years, the shit McQueen turns into a kind of circular abstract painting in one scene. The ability of people to survive that kind of degradation and brutality for the sake of an idea is ultimately uplifting. The ability to inflict that kind of degradation and brutality is to be the subject of one of my next posts (bet you can’t wait ;-) inspired by Philippe Sands‘ recent book Torture Team about torture in Iraq, where Steve McQueen served as a war artist in 2003.) So shifting Sands from Bobby to Philippe – not easy subjects but then 7/7 isn’t an easy day…

Web 2.0 – The Musical

Web 2.0 - The Musical

Take some Tweets, throw in a Poke or two, add a Digg and a Recommendation, and voila – ‘Web 2.0: the musical’ – enjoy!

Tomorrow night at the Rochelle Theatre School as part of 2gether08 festival

Rocky Road

Banff, Canada

Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City

High in his mountain lair, overlooking the snow-topped peaks of the Canadian Rockies, protected by the sheer stone walls of the looming castle, the cross-platform commissioner and his white cat reflect on the events of the past few days. The Banff Spring hotel, one of the barmy baronial piles built by the Canadian Pacific railway (I’ve seen two others, at Lake Louise and in downtown Toronto, all astounding in their scale), is home to the annual Banff TV Festival which follows hard on the heels of NextMedia, its toddler brother of about four which focuses on interactive media. It’s interesting to see this year that the two are beginning to overlap substantially, reflecting (a little late) the changes in TV over the last two years in particular.

The highlights for me of ‘the place great TV is born’…

My main speaking session this afternoon with Kate Harwood from BBC Drama (Cranford, Oliver Twist, etc.), chaired by Ed Waller, Editorial Director of C21 Media – really enjoyed rabbiting on about Picture This, Embarrassing Bodies and Big Art Mob to illustrate my approach to factual cross-platform (BTW “rabbiting” is one of various English words I found out this trip Canadians don’t understand). Sesh seemed to go down well. Mentioned the forthcoming 4mations and 4IP. It’s always fun demoing Embarrassing Bodies because you never know what gruesome video will be featured on the homescreen – my very own Russian roulette of public speaking (not sure what exactly we were looking at yesterday but the thumbnail featured what seemed to be a fifteen-day old mini cheese pizza growing on someone’s head) .

Kate showed a couple of interesting clips from forthcoming shows – House of Saddam looked fascinating as did Criminal Justice (in which Pete Postlethwaite and some other thesp heavyweights cropped up).

Looking up at the reception before the Rockies Awards to see Bill Murray of Where the Buffalo Roams and Ghostbusters fame. Stripes featured big in my teen viewing – especially the parade ground manoeuvres to the tune of Manfred Mann’s Doo Wah Diddy. He looked rather white and old. Buffalo I first saw at the Arts Cinema when I was at college so I guess he is getting on. (I’ve just finished reading Fear & Loathing for the first time – goddarn that book has great pictures!)

I’m carrying on writing this on Canada’s third greatest invention – after maple syrup and Neil Young – the Blackberry. We’ve just driven past the Banff Centre where Kim Cattrall trained. I had the pleasure of picking up 4 Rockies Awards on behalf of the Channel in front of said Sex in the City star to her 1 shiny little metal mountain range. Whilst she looked like a million dollars, I was more like a bad penny, coming back to the podium four times, which did however have the benefit of driving home how much above its weight Channel 4 punches.

Going to the hot springs after work yesterday with Jane Mote of UKTV, in their rather charming 1932 split-level building. 39 degrees in the outdoor water with views in all directions of snow-capped peaks. Steam coming off the surface, fat bellied men in old-style trunks, a row of French maidens posing in 1930s bathing costumes, it felt for a moment like we were in some Russian resort, missing only the wodka.

Running this morning, after doing a breakfast meeting with four Canadian writers and producers (including Jill Golick of scriptwriting blog Story2OH), along the Bow river past the falls. The epitome of Canadian Rockies scenery.

Having a proper chat at breakfast with Nick Fraser of Storyville (who has just execed a film about the aforereferredto Hunter Thompson) (and Mette Hoffman Meyer of DTV, Denmark representing the award-winning documentary Iron Ladies of Liberia) – last saw Nick when we were both speaking at Discovery Campus in Brussels but didn’t really get to talk – so a proper chat about photography (prompted by his commission What Remains: Life & Work of Sally Mann which also picked up a Rocky), new digital forms for documentary, sealing wax, cabbages and things.

Last year it was Mark Thompson I met at breakfast in that same dining room. We were discussing the fall-out of Celeb Big Bro and his verdict was “shit happens”. And the Richard & Judy phone vote balls-up – “Sometimes shit happens in a row”. Which in retrospect was ironic given the kind of year he had following that convo with one bit of shit (Blue Peter fix) after another (queen trail scandal) after another (BBC cuts).

Hooking up with Tom Perlmutter, President of the National Film Board of Canada, to explore possibilities about combining forces on 4mations. Canada has a great reputation in animation which seems in kindred spirit to what comes out of Channel 4 on the animation front.

Meeting an honest to goodness Mountie.

Being on the judging panel for iPitch from the Bell New Media fund, like last year. Not quite as exciting entries as last time but a worthy winner (a cross-platform teen court).

As I come down from the mountains, I come away with the impression that convergence is now more than the C word in TV – it’s the done deed.

Radio Radio

Neil Pearson

An article by Robin Parker in Broadcast this week about my The Radio Play’s The Thing commission, a project I’ve been working on for two years now and which is just concluding its production phase.

I conceived it as an experiment in what I called (back in 2006) ‘User Commissioned Content’, which was sloppy short-hand for ‘User-Generated Content where you give the User a few quid to help realise their vision’ (for some studio time, a special actor, whatever). As it turned out I was applying a TV/video paradigm to the Radio medium where the gap between writer and producer/director is much wider so I adapted the project on the fly, eventually bringing in professional directors from other disciplines (TV, experimental theatre, etc.) to produce the radio dramas professionally but with the freshness of never having worked in the Radio medium.

4Radio sounds off with dramas ahead of launch

  • Published: 07 May 2008 11:45
  • Author: Robin Parker

The first fiction commissions for Channel 4′s fledgling 4Radio venture are to debut online later this month when the broadcaster unveils four audio dramas.

The plays are all by new writers and will be directed by TV and theatre directors making their radio debuts. Neil Pearson and Hollyoaks actors Gerard McCarthy and Jennifer Biddall are among the cast.

The scripts were chosen from more than 1,000 submitted to an online competition launched last year off the back of C4 theatre talent search The Play’s the Thing.

They were originally intended to be shared with OneWord before C4 pulled its funding from the station in December.

C4 now plans to use the web to launch the plays ahead of 4Radio‘s planned start at the end of this year and will also make them available as podcasts.

The 15-minute plays tackle heavyweight themes. Hospital doctor Andy Prendergast’s To the Broad Shore explores euthanasia; DA McIllroy’s The Interpreter features a confrontation between a Belfast police officer and a Chinese illegal immigrant; Stephen Todd’s Proud Songster looks at the impact of genocide in Rwanda; and Caroline Gilfillan’s The Colonel reflects on Chilean torture that took place in the 1970s.

All four are produced by Maud Hand of Maud Hand Productions and John Dryden of Goldhawk Productions. Hand has developed the project since January 2006. Dryden was invited latterly to come on board and is an experienced radio producer who has specialised in recording plays on location, most notably Radio 4′s The Cairo Trilogy, starring Omar Sharif.

The 4Radio plays are also made out of the studio in locations around London.

Directors lined up include Noreen Kershaw, the Life on Mars actress who has turned to directing Coronation Street and Shameless, and Andrew Foster, the New Zealand theatre director who developed cult comedy Flight of the Conchords for HBO and directed the feature film Eagle vs Shark.

C4 new media commissioner Adam Gee has championed the plays at C4, developing the project in his earlier role as head of 4Talent.

Also involved have been writer Annie Caulfield, Radio Academy director Trevor Dann and Shameless creator Paul Abbott.

“Having created some content for 4Radio, much of it linked to established C4 shows, this is our first experiment in making radio drama sound different,” said Gee.

Article reproduced courtesy of Robin Parker and Broadcast

Life afta Bafta

Bitter Lemon

I think it was Sartre who said: “You’ve got to be philosophical about it.” Well, I was trying my best last night at the TV BAFTAs after Big Art Mob lost out to Spooks in the Interactivity category. I tried to put on my least bitter look, so more mandarin than lemon but not really peachy.

That said, I had an enjoyable enough evening. Besides my co-nominees (Alfie Dennen of Moblog and Clifford Singer of Edition, who showed an admirably rigid upper lip) at my table was the dapper Peter Kosminsky, writer and director of Britz (for Channel 4), which caused the biggest upset of the night by stealing the Drama Serial category from hot favourite Cranford. He gave a lovely acceptance speech acknowledging his late father, an aspiring writer who never achieved recognition. Accompanying Peter was his wife Helen who works for Artichoke, the outfit behind The Sultan’s Elephant – which I had the great pleasure of stumbling on by accident as I left a meeting at the ICA, one of those unexpected pleasures which make life worth living.

The two leads from Britz were also at our table, Riz Ahmed and Manjinder Virk, the former filling us in on his non-acting activities as Riz MC – I’ve just downloaded a track (The Post 9/11 Blues) and it’s a jolly little choon with a nice twist of politics. Talking of twist, he told an illuminating story about coming back from the Berlin film festival (where Britz won the Silver Bear) and being detained and roughed up by British immigration when he reacted with incredulity to their bizarre full-on questioning as he arrived home-sour-home.

Among our number was also a trio of filmfolk – David Aukin, formerly head of FilmFour (in the Trainspotting era) who told us a bit about his new movie that kicked off production yesterday starring the marvelous William Hurt (The Big Chill, Altered States, Smoke); Rebecca O’Brien, Ken Loach’s long-time producer; and Kierston Wareing, up for best actress for It’s a Free World (not bitter either), who was sitting on the other side of a large clump of decorative foliage from me so never had the pleasure of engaging with her beyond admiring her LBD+ (second only to Joanna Lumley’s flowing tangerine Grecian number).

Otherwise caught up with Ben Miller (of Miller and Armstrong) who co-wrote MindGym with Tim Wright and me. The best thing about working with him was that he insisted on performing the stuff he wrote before he would hand it over. He was also being philosophical about things having lost out in the Comedy category to C4′s Phonejacker.

Another philosopher was Matthew MacFadyen who, having missed out on Best Actor (in his role in Secret Life) to Andrew Garfield (Boy A), confirmed it’s all a pile of crap (the classic default position until you triumph), backed up by his Mrs Keeley Hawes who confirmed it’s all down to who’s in the room the day they do the judging (the back-up default position).

Other highlights of the evening included having a piss beside the Top Gear boyz Richard Hammond and James May which impressed the Enfants Terribles no-end (they’re Dave addicts); getting picked up from my gaff by a chauffeur-driven posh Audi (driven by an off-duty road cop from Northampton) – I took as long as I could decently do getting from the front door to the car for maximum neighbour-exposure; meeting various Skinsfolk including Tony and the late Chris; and spotting a psycho-stalker-autographhunter (complete with two cameras round his neck, the cover of an Emmerdale video among his equipment, and seriously deranged teeth) as we went into the Grosvenor bash, who, together with the red carpet experience before the Palladium show, made you happy not to live the celeb life-style and truly content with the Simple Pleasures.

Sons and Daughters

ryan’s daughterTook my dear ol’ mum out for her birthday a couple of evenings ago to see David Lean’s film ‘Ryan’s Daughter’, screened in 70mm at BAFTA in Piccadilly. When I got to the ticket desk there was a good looking actress there whose birthday it also was. That was probably the first hint that my biorhythms were in fine fettle that day. The next clue was when we were handed two glasses of champagne as we walked in. It turned out that 25th March was also the birthday of David Lean – and this year is the centenary of his birth. So we walked in to a special reception with booze, nosh and some interesting faces dotted around the room. I should have made a better fist of pretending “I knew that” and having been so organised as to have arranged especially for fine champers, fancy fish cakes and famous faces. Among them were Peter Lean (David’s son) and Sarah Miles, Ryan’s Daughter herself.

Just before Sarah Miles arrived, I’d been unwittingly sitting beside one of her best friends and talking to my mum about how Ryan’s Daughter is my other half’s most loathed film. Why she gave me the middle name Diplomacy I’ll never know. I did a good one last year with Nicholas Hoult of Skins and About A Boy fame. I’d been reading the first scripts for Skins and was blown away by them. I was speaking at a 4Talent do for Raw Cuts at the Electric Cinema in Portobello Road and Nick was also talking, being a real supporter of the NSPCC. “You’re shooting Skins down in Bristol aren’t you? Awesome script. Let me guess who you’re playing… Is it the nerdy one? [Sid]” “No.” “Ah, right, so it must be the devastatingly handsome one. [Tony]” Note to self: Never ask: are you Australian? (ask Are you a Kiwi?). Never ask: are you an American? (ask Are you Canadian?). Ask: are you the devastatingly handsome one?

Any way, she really does loathe the film. So did much of the audience and the critics at the time from what I understand. Lean didn’t make another film for 14 years in the wake of Ryan, so stung was he by its poor reception. If you look at it from an Irish point of view, it is on the dodgy side. The Irish in the movie range from a dribbling retard, to a black leather clad gun runner, to a priest with Republican sympathies and a bottle of Jamesons tucked away in his dirty black soutane, to a treacherous father with verbal diarrhea to a silly adulterous girl. But I think it was always the drooling John Mills that really irked her.

So I went in ready to enjoy in widescreen the scenery of the West Coast I love so much (as captured by Freddie Young) but to scoff at the story and characterisation. Producer [Absolute Beginners, Mona Lisa, The Crying Game] and boss of the National Film School Nik Powell introduced the film, followed by a nice anecdote from the lead actress highlighting the contradictoriness of Lean’s character (he told her off for throwing away a sliver of soap from his hotel room which had “a good three days left in it” and then bought her a Lamborghini a few weeks later). It must have been the weirdest experience for Sarah Miles watching her 29 year old self up in 70mm widescreen – she told me she’d never seen the film before except on video, she doesn’t like watching herself – at the age of 67. It was enough of a momento mori for the rest of us. Ryan was written by her late husband, Robert Bolt, who passed away in 1995. The film started with an overture of the musical soundtrack with the curtains still closed. At three hours thirty it had an intermission. So very much a blast from the cinematic past. The thing was I couldn’t help myself – shagging in the bluebell woods beside the burbling brook, rescuing rebel arms from the crashing waves, padding barefoot across the beaches of Dingle – I was suckered, I came out feeling I’d just watched something romantic and epic and Technicolor from a bygone age.

Lean was the prime-mover behind the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He gave half of his huge royalty shares on Bridge over the River Kwai and Dr Zhivago to help get the Academy up and running. (He didn’t bother including Lawrence of Arabia as the studio had told him it would never show a profit – dontcha just love creative accounting a la Hollywood.) So Lean was the first Chairman of the Academy and a life-long supporter, very keen on film retaining its “dignity” through proper screening in well equipped public auditoriums.

The cherry on the (birthday) cake – the birthday, BAFTA, biorhythm thing that seemed to be conjoining on the day – was that, unbeknownst to me (I found out the next morning) the nominees for this year’s BAFTA TV Craft Awards had been announced during the day and Big Art Mob was nominated in two of the three interactive categories, on top of its nomination the week before in the BAFTA TV Awards. It’s up against Dr Who, X Factor, Spooks, BBC iPlayer, Kate Modern and Bebo among others so pretty much a shoe-in ;-)

Craft was very much Lean’s background having emerged into directing via editing. He cut for Powell & Pressburger during the war, as well as for Noel Coward on In Which We Serve. His first writing credit was for adapting Coward’s This Happy Breed which starred the marvelous Robert Newton under Lean’s direction (his solo directorial debut). There was nothing remotely televisual about Ryan’s Daughter. It was steeped in the craft and love of cinema. No better way to celebrate a birthday.

Frock-coats and drama kings

Jason Isaacs

Sitting here in Carlingford, County Louth on a quiet evening in charge of sleeping children above, with my other half out with some of her dozens of cousins on the other side of Carlingford Lough in Rostrevor, County Down, with some godawful pseudo-american chatshow on RTE1 (Tubirdy Tonight – the name captures the height of shite it represents – a charmless, dull host behind a reproduction antique desk on the other side of which sits a fake nobody guest (the renowned Deirdre O’Kane?) with a D4 tango tan behind which are wooden window panes giving on to a fake cityscape unlike any part of Dublin I’ve ever seen, a lifeless photo devoid of dynamism or truth) and some two-bit boxing match on RTE2 with a ringside commentator with huge arched eyebrows and a forehead like the Mekon – jaysis, we’re blessed with our public service broadcasting back in Blighty, Ireland has much to offer the world but telly isn’t among its riches – I flick to a movie on Ulster TV, Joe Wright’s recent iteration of Pride and Prejudice with Ikea Knightley, as Mark Kermode (who popped up earlier this evening on the Culture Show) calls her on his weekly movie review show on Radio 5 with Simon Mayo. (How’s that, heavenly muse, for a Miltonian sentence?)

From this movie, which has somehow lost its appeal on a second, small-screen viewing, I drift off to an altogether more engaging gathering than the one before me with the dreadful Mr Collins showing off his lightness of foot. The other night I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Darcy himself, Matthew Macfadyen, and his charming wife Keeley Hawes (Cock and Bull Story, Ashes to Ashes, Spooks, The Bank Job) at the RTS Production Awards where he very deservingly won the best actor award for the excellent Secret Life in which he portrays a recently released paedophile striving for rehabilitation. This Channel 4 commission, written and (first-time) directed by Rowan Joffe (28 Weeks Later, Gas Attack), culminates in an astonishing scene in a fairground where the struggling ex-con brings his handsome Darcy-like features and non-Darcy-like charm to bear on an underage girl. Will he or won’t he? It’s painfully impossible to call.

I watched the drama as one of the twenty hours I went through as a judge in the Scriptwriter – Drama category in the company of the likes of Simon Cellan Jones (Cracker, The Trial of Tony Blair) and Kudos’ Derek Wax (Sex Traffic). For me it was the best film, alongside Mark O’Rowe’s Boy A, but the BBC’s adapted screenplay for Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford eventually won the category. Brilliantly crafted of course and a wonderful cast to deliver the lines with the greatest of expertise – but not brave in the Channel 4 way of Secret Life and Boy A. Too much Pride and Prejudice, too little Shameless for me.

I’d been introduced to the self-effacing (for such a tall man) Matthew Macfadyen by Jason Isaacs, who I hadn’t seen for some twenty years. On occasion we traveled together to school on the bus when he was a big boy and I an insignificant underling. I remember him being warm and open – most bigger boys just ignored you at best. He remembered himself as being unpleasant at that age and “driven by fear”. Mark Kermode – who says hallo to Jason Isaacs and David Morrissey every week on the aforementioned review programme – recalls Jason (who was in the same year as him) as very cool and collected. Jason recalls Mark as the cool one to be looked up to with his quiff and rockabilly persona. Which all goes to show the gulf between our perception of ourselves and how we actually come across to others, as well as the role self-confidence and fear plays in our formative years and beyond. Darcy has just walked out suddenly on a confused Elizabeth for just such reasons.

It was lovely catching up with Jason after so long, last time we met he was still in Capital City with Clive Owen et al. [Correction - see comment below: Make that Douglas Hodge - Clive Owen was in Chancer which aired the same year with Peter Vaughan and Leslie Phillips, written by Tony Grounds.] Since then he’s been to Hollywood (Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, Armageddon, Harry Potter, etc.) and back (to be able to raise his daughters properly) and the night of the RTS was playing Harry H Corbett in The Curse of Steptoe and Son on BBC4 to enthusiastic reviews. We chatted about the urban myth that was the Edgware Walker (as brought to the screen by the maverick Lee Kern), about mutual schoolmates including the legendary Laurence Gould, broader than he was tall, famous for launching two skinheads down the stairs at Stanmore Station, and that was another subject of conversation, the neo-nazi violence of the mid-70s which Jason recalls much more vividly than I can. My first gig was the Tom Robinson Band at the Hammersmith Odeon – TRB introduced me to Anti-Nazi League activism, as well as the notion of gay rights – but it was all a bit theoretical for me. It seems like the couple of years age gap between us made it all much more real for Jason. He also spoke insightfully about his own craft. Producer Vadim Jean (Leon the Pig Farmer, Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather) joined us for that bit of the convo – he held up Gene Hackman as one of the most consistently excellent screen actors. Watching Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennett does make you think about consistency – the man from Mash and Klute is also the winner of the all-time worst accent award for his role in Goldcrest’s disasterous Revolution. But in the end it’s all just make-believe. Jason’s older brother, a doctor, it turns out saved a man’s life by performing an emergency tracheotomy (with a biro!) on a plane heading to North Africa. In the light of that, Lydia running off with the perfidious Wickham seems to pale into insignificance.

A few years ago I was filming in Northern Ireland with Eddie McCaffery of Joose TV (then Emerald Productions) and Roddy Gibson (now a TV specialist course director at Middlesex Uni). We had a break from filming and headed up to Horn Head in Donegal. Whilst walking out on the bog of the headland we came across an older man collapsed with blood coming from his mouth, his distraught sister kneeling at his side. The three of us had recently spent weeks in an edit suite cutting a scene involving first aid and so were quite up on our life-saving. We did all the right stuff, got blood all over Roddy’s new jacket which served to cushion the old fella’s head, ended up carrying the prone body (surprisingly heavy) by stretcher back up off the bog to the ambulance which took him to Letterkenny hospital. We never heard a word from the man or his sister. Jason’s brother was given an airline voucher for £30 for his trouble. Elizabeth Bennett may be struggling a bit with her values here but those are both seriously out of whack. Jason’s brother was, however, invited to his emergency patient’s subsequent wedding where he came to see for himself what the act meant to the young man’s parents. Lady Catherine de Burgh (Judi Dench, who also featured in Cranford) has just been shown the door by the feisty Elizabeth, a frock-coated Matthew Macfadyen is striding through the mist, so wedding bells are just around the corner now as things trundle to their happy ending.

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