You might recall an article I wrote last year about a film that had been made in my own village last year, called Wreckers, starring Claire Foy and Benedict Cumberbatch. I wrote a review, as well as a piece on how I was Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film, long before this blog was a glint in the milkman’s eye, but I also took the opportunity to conduct an interview with the writer and director, Dictynna Hood.
The interview took place at a local tea shop, where we had some delightful tea and scones, and I recorded a forty minute interview on my iPhone, which came out surprisingly well. Typing it back now has been a strange experience – particularly listening to the clanking and bustling going on in the rest of the tea shop – and Dictynna was a very open and friendly interviewee for my first such attempt, for which I must say a big thank you. We covered a wide variety of topics, everything from the films of Michael Haneke to Doctor Who, but it’s the cinematic impact and benefits that I’m most interested in, so what’s here are my questions specifically around that subject, and the film in general.
The film is showing tonight and tomorrow night (24th / 25th April) at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, and tonight there will be an opportunity to ask Dictynna your own questions. Hopefully if you’re in the area you’ll be able to make it, and enjoy both the film and the Q & A as much as I did.
When you set out to make Wreckers, was the intention to get it into cinemas or was it just an extension of the short films you’d made previously?
I was definitely thinking of it for cinemas, knowing that we’re selling to the BBC and abroad it will also be mainly TV sales, but we definitely wanted the cinema release. Claire Foy is also very filmic; she has this quality that you can just watch her. She does a lot of watching, not speaking, in the film and I think holds the screen fantastically, which is one of the reasons it’s gone into the cinema. In the cinema, you can also see the subtlety of the performances more clearly, which gets lost a little on TV when you’re more focused on the plot.
What was it that decided you to set it in a village specifically? Was it more plot driven or was it about the film economics?
A little of both, really. It’s very contained, and while there’s a budgetary reason for that people have mentioned at Q & As that they saw that containment as a blessing. There were a lot of people who helped with the production of the film who’ve ended up being cut; nothing to do with them or their performance, but that was all to do with keeping that contained feeling. The village in the film isn’t a literal reflection of the real village itself, or the village I grew up in, but it’s important that there’s that small space with a very large area around it.
I had a fascination with the Fens for a long time; I also had a look at the West Country, and took a lot of pictures, but it somehow didn’t feel right. I had a book of Fenland stories which was inspirational. I was looking for a village that wasn’t too twee or precious. A friend suggested looking in the Isleham area, and when I went to the village I found the church open and the layout of the village was immediately appealing. I’d also looked at Norfolk, but the extreme landscape on the Fens was just so appealing.
I understand you studied in Cambridge; was that where the love affair with the area came from originally?
No, I think it actually came from the book of stories originally, but it wasn’t something that it particularly occurred from my studying. I’d been on a biking holiday with my sister on the Fens when I was younger, but it didn’t capture me then, only later. I’d still love to do more filming in the area in the future, possibly getting on the water, or exploring the farming and the legends. I do think it’s one of the most extreme landscapes in the UK, and it gets away from all the murder mystery and period drama feel that you normally associate with the countryside.
Although I live in the village, I wasn’t aware of who you had in the film until after you’d finished filming. How did you put a cast like that together?
We cast them because we thought they were a cracking cast; as it turns out, everyone else seems to have thought that as well! They were fantastic, and obviously that has helped the film enormously. Their profile has increased since we filmed, and we were very lucky to get them all, especially given how especially Benedict’s profile has soared since. He makes David’s character very ambiguous, with a more straightforward performance the film would have taken a very different turn, and potentially been less interesting for it.
Reading interviews with him, he seems to be in it very much for the craft rather than the attention. How did he come across when filming?
My impression is that he loves to work, and that’s why he did the film, as he had a gap in his schedule. I read in one of his interviews that he wanted to follow the James McAvoy path, mixing blockbusters with films like this, but his schedule actually made finishing the film rather complicated.
When did you actually film? Was it a couple of years ago?
It was 2009, and it’s actually turned out to be a real help that it’s taken a while to put together, in terms of the profile of the cast and where they are now, but at the time it didn’t it didn’t feel like that, it felt like, “why can’t we just finish this bloody thing!”
I need to be careful, I’m technically a PG blog!
But no, everything about it felt wonderful in the end, for such a small production.
How do you go about getting a film into something like the London Film Festival [the film played at LFF in 2011]? Is it a fairly lengthy, tortuous process?
When we showed it to our cast and crew on a big screen for the first time we realised the film had a real pull in the cinema. Then we hosted a couple of screenings for industry folks and got Artificial Eye our distributor on board at that point which no doubt helped. We invited one of the programmers for the London Film Festival to an industry screening, it’s certainly better if a programmer can see your film big screen.
Do you think that British film is becoming confined to the festivals? It seems harder to get distribution for British films these days.
We had very realistic expectations for our film and it’s already gone beyond those expectations. I saw a lot of bold films at the London Film Festival which probably won’t get a release, but I’m not sure what the answer is; maybe more the French style of distribution. There’s a lot more film clubs in villages these days, which does open up more opportunities for folks to see films on the big screen. From a filmmaker’s perspective it does help enormously if you can cast people more recognisable to a wider audience, but it’s a shame if you have to do that at all times.
Has Wreckers turned out pretty much how you imagined it?
We realised on day three that we couldn’t shoot our storyboard, so we had to work out quickly how to capture the feeling we were after, happily we’d had a lot of discussion during pre-production about the grammar and the atmosphere of the film and how to maintain that even if shooting not exactly as planned. Even if you’re Hitchcock or Kubrick, as soon as you cast it the film becomes something different, as actors embody the characters and make them their own. The key as a director is to hold on to the core ideas and the core feeling of the film and to create around that. It’s was Annemarie’s [Lean-Vercoe,director of photography] first or second feature, and I couldn’t have done it without her, but all of the crew were magnificent.
What’s next for you, now that Wreckers has been a success and gotten into cinemas?
I’m exploring what to do next; we’ve got a story about a big family gathering where the parents are ageing hippies, and we’ve got a wonderfully twisted rom-com. I want to get on and direct more, but you have to make sure that the script is a match, and I guess the joy of writing is that you know your script is a match! [laughs]
Dictynna Hood, thank you very much.
Wreckers is also available on DVD now from all good stockists.
The Review: If you were attempting to take a snapshot of British life from the output of our film industry, you might think that we’re stuck somewhere between a sumptuous costume drama, a brutal gangland thriller or a Richard Curtis comedy. Unless you’re Mr Darcy, Danny Dyer or Dawn French, you may not find these to be the most realistic or relatable portrayals of the core of British society. As for an understanding of village life, The Archers or Emmerdale are the closest that popular culture has come to understanding what makes a village tick, but now writer / director D R Hood has given us her insight into the lives of villagers and the secrets hidden behind the calm façade of life in the country.
Dawn and David (Claire Foy and Benedict Cumberbatch) are attempting to make a life for themselves in the country, in the village where David grew up. It seems the perfect couple have found the perfect home, but the arrival on the scene of David’s brother Nick (Shaun Evans) opens up a few closets with skeletons in, and starts to sow a small seed of doubt in Dawn’s mind. Having moved back to the village to start a family, Dawn begins to wonder if David is really the man she thought he was, especially as previously unknown details about the brothers’ childhood come to light. As Dawn finds herself drawn closer to Nick, their relationships become increasingly strained and Dawn finds herself faced with difficult decisions.
Wreckers is, first and foremost, an actor’s film, but it never descends to the level of melodrama, the performances all marked out in subtle shades rather than broad strokes. Claire Foy is at the heart of the film, and she captures perfectly the sense of conflict as she struggles to come to terms with what she’s learning. Opposite her, Benedict Cumberbatch is full of simmering tension and later controlled rage, hidden so far beneath the surface that it would be undetectable in a lesser actor. Shaun Evans completes the central trio, and while his performance isn’t quite the match for subtlety of his co-stars, his in-your-face manner a suitable counterpoint to the more understated performances of the two leads.
The other star of Wreckers is the scenery, the East Anglian countryside being used very effectively not only to emphasise the increasing isolation of the characters but also to give contrast to the lives they’re leading. There’s an almost dream-like quality to some of the photography, and the combination of this and the score from Andrew Lovett help to emphasise the placid nature of the surroundings, which only serves to give more edge to the unfolding drama. The story itself is a little linear, but that doesn’t detract from the overall effect, and there’s a pleasing sense of ambiguity around the ending. While Wreckers might capture the scenery and the atmosphere of village life, its moral dilemmas are somewhat more universal, but it’s worth catching for the combination of great actors working close to the top of their game in quintessentially English settings, and is a refreshingly different slant on British life without the need for British stereotypes.
Why see it at the cinema: The combination of the beautiful scenery and the intimate drama will work best on the big screen; the countryside scenes are almost hypnotic at times but the camera gets in close to the actors, and the cinema screen will capture every intimate glance and nuanced gesture.
The Score: 8/10