British filmmaker Thomas Clay made an impression on the scene back in the noughties with two controversial films that had began to establish him as a rising star to pay attention to. After strangely going off the radar ever since, he’s returned to the director’s chair with period drama Fanny Lye Deliver’d. Set on an isolated Shropshire farm shortly after the English Civil War, the plot centres around the bleak lives of Fanny (Maxine Peake), her abusive husband John (Charles Dance) and their son Arthur. When young couple Thomas (Freddie Fox) and Rebecca (Tanya Reynolds) arrive unannounced to seek shelter in their barn one night, the Lye’s strict puritan lifestyle is challenge by radical new ideas.
After a foray into English-language cinema with historical drama Jackie a few years ago, acclaimed Chilean director Pablo Larraín returns to his mother-tongue to tell an intimate story set in his hometown. The plot follows dancer Ema (Mariana Di Girólamo) in the aftermath of a tragedy that ended her marriage with choreographer Gastón (Gael García Bernal). When their adopted son Polo started a housefire which had dire consequences for the family, he was subsequently taken away from the couple. Reeling with grief and frustration, we see Ema react in unpredictable, volatile ways.
It’s been a decade since Welsh actor Craig Roberts’ breakthrough performance in Richard Ayoade’s critically acclaimed indie film Submarine. Sally Hawkins played the part of his mother back then, and now she takes up the leading role in comedy drama Eternal Beauty, his second feature as writer and director. The plot centres around Jane (Hawkins) who suffered a psychological breakdown years earlier after being jilted at the altar. Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, we see how she interacts with her sisters Nicola (Billie Piper) and Alice (Alice Lowe), her mother Vivian (Penelope Witton) and her madcap love interest Mike (David Thewlis) who has mental health issues of his own.
Indie director Gerard Johnson’s latest movie is Muscle, a psychological thriller starring Cavan Clerkin and Craig Fairbrass. The plot follows out-of-shape salesman Simon who meets an intimidating personal trainer at his local gym. After its premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, I caught up with Gerard to discuss the film…
How did the London premiere go?
It was great! It was my first time having a film at London. I’m from London so it was nice that I finally got to play a film there. My previous two Tony and Hyena both premiered in Edinburgh, so it was lovely to premiere in London with Muscle. The three screenings went well and generated great word of mouth buzz, so it was everything I wanted from the festival really.
Where did the inspiration come from for Simon’s story?
Well I’ve been going to gyms all my life really, from the spit-and-sawdust ones to the more modern lifestyle ones. I’ve had this idea for a while of a personal trainer taking over someone’s life, and it remained a two-page treatment idea for years. Recently, in seeing how gym culture has exploded, it made me think that we’ve never really had a film about gym culture. Obviously, there was Pumping Iron, which is an amazing gym-based documentary but that’s more about Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. Nowadays, everyone is more health conscious and knows about nutrition, carbs, good fats etc. so it feels like a good time to shine a light on that world in the cinema.
The ninth collaboration between legendary pairing Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro and their first in over twenty years, mob drama The Irishman has been a long time coming. Based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by true crime writer Charles Brandt, the plot centres around Frank Sheeran (De Niro), the eponymous WWII veteran turned hitman. From meeting mafia kingpin Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) to his complicated friendship with union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the sprawling epic tracks the life and times of the mercilessly loyal footsoldier.
New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi has garnered cult status and critical acclaim with his distinctive style of madcap comedy. The controversial premise of his latest feature Jojo Rabbit has caused quite the stir as the Jewish auteur tackles the topic of Nazism. Based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, the WWII story sees German boy Johannes (Roman Griffin Davis) enrol in a Hitler Youth training camp run by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) and his team of instructors. Meanwhile, Johannes’s mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is harbouring Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their house, presenting a moral dilemma for the young protagonist which he ponders with Adolf (Taika Waititi), his dictatorial imaginary friend.
Indie filmmaker Gerard Johnson isn’t content with making simple crime movies. His work to date has blended the genre with other elements, crossing into wider arthouse ideas. With psychological thriller Muscle, he casts his directorial gaze upon gym culture and the toxic masculinity that can come with it. The plot follows Simon (Cavan Clerkin), a schlubby call-centre worker stuck in a rut. In an attempt to better himself, he joins the local gym where he meets Terry (Craig Fairbrass), an intimidating personal trainer who offers Simon a helping hand. They strike up an unlikely friendship, but it soon becomes apparent that all is not what it seems.
Indie filmmaker Noah Baumbach explores love within the confines of separation with divorce drama Marriage Story. The plot follows actress Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and her theatre director husband Charlie (Adam Driver) as their relationship is falling apart. With their young son to consider, they want an amicable break-up, but once lawyers get involved, the situation becomes messy and emotionally charged.
William Nicholson is a respected and prolific screenwriter, having penned the scripts for Gladiator, Les Misérables, Shadowlands, and many others. His latest film is divorce drama Hope Gap which he has written and directed. It’s a very personal piece as it is based on his own life and adapted from his Tony award-nominated play Retreat from Moscow.
The story tracks the separation of husband Edward (Bill Nighy) from wife Grace (Annette Bening) after almost thirty years of marriage. With their son Connor (Josh O’Connor) somewhat caught in the crossfire, the narrative illustrates how the split impacts on the family and explores the repercussions of the breakup. The film celebrated its UK Premiere at the London Film Festival, and I was fortunate enough to chat with Nicholson about the project…
What were the biggest challenges in adapting the theatrical dialogue in your play for the cinema?
In an interesting way, the biggest challenge was to not ditch the dialogue! A lot of people think that you can’t have a film where people give long speeches. I don’t agree. A film is yet another form of exposing people to emotional drama. There are some films that are wall-to-wall talk and they’re amazing…films like Before Sunrise for example. The key thing for me was NOT to say, ‘I must open it up’. I should have faith in my words.
Having said that, the film gave me so much opportunity to give echoes of other images which I put an awful lot of work into. It sounds silly but there’s a shot of a train going by and I spent about a day trying to find the angle for the train to cross. I wanted the screen to be a little bit empty, a little bit lonely, and to have a sense of ‘the end of the line’ because that was in this emotion of the story. I’ve been able to compose every frame! I can’t do that in the theatre because the audience composes the frame. For me, that was a gift.
With the story being autobiographical of your youth, how come it’s taken so long to make it to the big screen?
I was waiting for my parents to die…I think in some ways it would’ve been hard for them to see the film. My mother certainly was very conflicted. Not that she wouldn’t have wanted me to do it, but she kept thinking that my version of what my father did was the truth. It might be the truth, but I don’t know! He didn’t talk too much, so I’ve invented my version of why he did what he did. Now that they’re not here anymore, I’m free to invent.
The other reason it’s taken so long is that I’ve been afraid of directing for a long time. I finally thought ‘If I don’t do this, I’ll just be dead’ so I might as well get on with it. I realised that I’m surrounded by experts and my job as a director is to know what I want, but I don’t know how to get it. The cinematographer, the set designer, the editor. These people know how to get it, so I need to get them to make it for me…and they do! Here I am at my advanced age and I feel like I’m starting a new career. It’s amazing.
The original play was titled Retreat from Moscow. What was the story behind the name change to Hope Gap?
Retreat from Moscow was always problematic because everybody thought it was about Napoleon. It was a metaphorical title, but I thought for the film I had to do something else. Because I grew up in Seaford, I thought I’d make it there…so when I was visiting, I saw the Hope Gap which is a real place, and I thought that was perfect. Nobody else wanted Hope Gap actually. My production colleagues thought it was ugly and horrible. It might be puzzling but it’s memorable and I like it…so I hung on and now it just seems so natural. I’m thrilled with the title!
You have such wonderful actors for the film. Did you always have them in mind at the beginning of the project?
Bill Nighy, yes! I didn’t even know Josh O’Connor existed! I was casting and meeting people and by golly, do I know he exists now! He is going to be a big star. He’s wonderful. Annette was much harder to cast. I was originally looking at English actors, but my production company were telling me I needed a big name. A name big enough to get the money…so we looked into the Americans! We approached Annette and it was quite a process. She wasn’t sure about me but then why would she be sure? I might be a well-known screenwriter but I’m not a famous director and actors care about that. Thankfully, she eventually said yes and here we are!
Hope Gap will be in UK cinemas from 28th August 2020
Writer and director Robert Eggers caused a stir with his folktale debut The Witch back in 2015, and his sophomore effort is fantasy horror The Lighthouse. The 1890s plot follows experienced seafarer Thomas (Willem Dafoe) as he hires fresh new recruit Winslow (Robert Pattinson) to help him with the upkeep of a lighthouse off the coast of Maine. Working hard by day and drinking hard by night with only each other for company, the harsh conditions and isolation eventually takes its toll on them, and Winslow slowly descends into madness.