Blake Morrison: interview
Soon after Blake Morrison‘s father died from cancer in 1991, the poet, writer and editor wrote ’And When Did You Last See Your Father?‘, a memoir of his childhood and the weeks leading up to his father‘s death. The book has now been made into a film written by David Nicholls (’Starter for Ten‘) and directed by Anand Tucker (’Hilary and Jackie‘, ’Shopgirl‘).
Does Jim Broadbent seem similar to your father?It just seems to work. Physically, Jim is not like my dad exactly. He’s tall, while my dad was short, and yet you forget that when you’re watching the film. I know I’m watching it from a particular perspective of course: he’s my father and nobody else is going to be thinking that. It’s interesting because Jim did come and talk to me about my father and what he was like and his mannerisms. But I think part of the reason his performance is so good is that his father was similar. He told me that his father was into a lot of the same things to do with cars and women as my dad. I think that’s why he’s so powerful at being my dad.
It must be flattering to be played by Colin Firth?Yes, well Colin is Colin and he’s played writers before. He’d read the book and he’d also read my book about my mother. I didn’t meet Colin until the film was being made, he didn’t feel the need to research me. The casting of Jim Broadbent as my dad is much more decisive because my father should dominate the film as this larger-than-life person. I tried to write an early version of the screenplay myself and the problem was that I could never write myself, this character of ‘Blake’. Writing a memoir is very different from constructing a character.
You manage to recall so much detail from your childhood.Of course it’s possible that I’ve misremembered some things but I was spending an awful lot of time in my parents’ home when my father died, which was near the house where I spent my childhood. I was surrounded by detail. My parents never chucked anything away, so everything was there. Memories would be triggered just by objects; my father’s stuff on his desk and so on. I think that’s why I included so much detail. If I’d been sitting in London, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
Would you say this is more an adaptation of your book than a dramatisation of your life?Yes, I think so. David Nicholls rang me up once very briefly when he was working on the script, so it’s not like he was writing a biography of someone he knew, he was working straight from the book. I was asked my opinion sometimes, and they could choose to ignore it. In an odd way, the book has become my memory of my childhood. Many memories went in there; there’s not a stash of them that I’ve never written about.A lot of time has passed now, so I feel that I can let go. If it had been two years after the book came out, and three years after my father had died, I would probably feel a lot more possessive, but you’ve got to let them make their own thing of it.
You say in a later afterword to your book that you were surprised how many readers contacted you and treated you as an agony uncle. Do you expect the same again?Well, I think they’ll be writing to Colin instead of me! I’ve had some emails from the film’s website from Colin’s fans, and this morning I had one from someone who asked: ‘How accurate is Gina McKee as your wife as I think I could have done that really well, especially with Colin lying on top of me…’ You realise what the poor guy’s up against.I do think people will be moved by the film, not everybody, but rather in a Diana way; you know, that some people weeping for Diana were weeping for some loss of their own.
Several writers of your generation have written of their parents since your book – Martin Amis, Hanif Kureishi, Graham Swift, Nick Hornby.Yes, that’s right. I don’t know if it’s our generation or if it’s true of all generations but it’s common to think your parents are very boring and not to be interested in their lives or their past, and then at a certain point, maybe when you have children, you begin to appreciate their other qualities. Then, of course, when they get ill and die, you get really, really curious. When my father died, ordinary objects became very precious to me; I’ve still got some of them, like the pacemaker that was cut out of him after he died. It’s a reappraisal of the relationship, partly out of the guilt that you never did them justice when you were young.‘And When Did You Last See Your Father?’ opens on Friday.
Author: Dave Calhoun
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