Is this the future of British cinema?

0

Comments

Add +

Ben Wheatley made his excellent British gangster film 'Down Terrace' with no government funding. Could this be a template for the future?

In all the furore this week about the impending demise of the UK Film Council, it’s easy to forget that it won’t necessarily spell the death knell for independent British cinema. This country has a great and growing tradition of home made, DIY cinema, as evidenced this week by the release of ‘Down Terrace’, a self-funded, Brighton-based black comedy which uses the basic template for many a gangland epic – a family of crimelords try to work out which of their shady compatriots shopped them to the narcs – to spin out a magnificently grim, witty and involving story of suburban angst, familial strife and bloody violence.

Director Ben Wheatley and his co-writer Robin Hill are TV veterans, having worked on the likes of Armando Ianucci’s ‘Time Trumpet’ and Johnny Vegas sitcom ‘Ideal’ which, with its claustrophobic, dope-addled atmosphere must’ve been the perfect practice for their first feature, ‘Down Terrace’. ‘We’d done interviews with local drug dealers and ne’er-do-wells,’ Wheatley tells me. ‘Rob and I had written a whole script.  But we looked at it and we thought, “it’s good but it’s been done before and done better.” So we came up with this idea of a crime film where you don’t see the actual crimes, so you don’t have to deal with all those clichés, but you still get all this interesting psychology, the drama that comes with the crime genre.’

For the film’s cast, Wheatley called on friends and people he’d met working in TV. Co-writer Hill plays the lead role of browbeaten, unbalanced son Karl, while his dad Robert Hill, a first-time actor, is remarkable as ’60s casualty-turned-drug kingpin Bill. ‘Bob’s a sensitive, open guy, and in retrospect it wasn’t a surprise, but it was pretty insane to have done it,’ Wheatley laughs. ‘It was very weird because we shot the film in their house, so you could feel all of those psychic scars. You wouldn’t be able to get that kind of reality from actors unless you rehearsed the absolute living shit out of them for months. That awkwardness only comes from real relationships.’

One of the most fascinating aspects of the film is how it constructs a world completely without morality, a brutal suburban landscape almost but not quite like the real world. ‘One of the key ideas was that there was this family who make their own rules,’ Wheatley agrees. ‘They were an island. But they were also a nation state who could declare war on people, the way Blair did.  They believe they’re right and that’s all that matters. They feel regret for the people they’ve killed. They feel sympathy towards them. And I just don’t see that in drama usually.  It’s always very black and white, but that doesn’t reflect what life’s like.  You can be laughing and crying, laughing and crying all day long. Life is much more staccato than the movies would have us believe.’

The use of a single location – a ramshackle suburban home – also leaves the film feeling very claustrophobic and intense. ‘I’d been reading about Mafia Dons who live in Sicily in shacks. They’re the most powerful people but they dress like tramps because they don’t want anyone to know who they are. That’s why the characters in the film live in a house that they can’t even decorate in case anyone notices. They think they’ve lived this hidden, secret life, controlling everything, but actually it’s all starting to unravel.’

The film is also unique in the way it portrays its criminal characters as complex, multi-layered but also very confused and mistake-prone individuals. ‘Reactions in America often consisted of people going, “the characters are criminals, but they talk in this uniquely erudite way…” Well, they’re just people. There’s intelligent road sweepers and there are really stupid QCs. It was weird for them that the characters are more interested in talking about music than they are in talking about crime. But people are rounded, aren’t they?  It’s only dramatically constructed characters that aren’t. Think of a movie character, say a cop on the edge. Maybe the cop is into accordions! You never know, do you?’

But the most interesting thing about ‘Down Terrace’ is that Wheatley and Hill didn’t wait for corporate or government funding, they just went ahead and made the film their own way, with their own equipment and their own money, calling in favours as they went.  ‘I’ve always been a bit wary of regional film funds and trying to raise money that way. I think if I had sent ‘Down Terrace’ in as a script and asked for funding, that would’ve been a very long and bumpy road. And the thing that makes me happy is that I know that whatever happens I can always just go back and make another one with my own money.’

That won’t be an issue in the immediate future: Wheatley and Hill have already received funding from Warp Films and Film4 to produce their first ‘professional’ feature, ‘Kill List’, a horror film to be shot in Sheffield. ‘What ‘Down Terrace’ is to crime, this is to horror,’ Wheatley enthuses. ‘It’s deconstructing it a bit, it’s very realistic, then spirals off.  I thought: If I’m going to do a horror film, it’s got to be really nasty!’

So while the closure of the Film Council may be a blow to many, it’s good to know there are still filmmakers like Wheatley making backyard features for discerning audiences. ‘The film industry seemed absolutely impenetrable from the outside, looking in,’ he remembers. ‘But we shot this in eight days, documentary style. There were no compromises. We just worked with what we had. The technology’s here, now. You’ve just got to make your own films.’



Author: Tom Huddleston



Users say

0 comments


Top Stories

Meet the dream team: a preview of ‘Les Misérables’

Meet the dream team: a preview of ‘Les Misérables’

Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.

Oscar predictions

Oscar predictions

The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards

January film highlights 2013

January film highlights 2013

Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow

October film highlights

October film highlights

Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.

The Time Out film debate 2012 highlights

The Time Out film debate 2012 highlights

The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.

Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'

Martin Freeman interview

Martin Freeman interview

'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.

Sam Mendes interview

Sam Mendes interview

Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.

Ang Lee interview

Ang Lee interview

The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'

Michael Haneke interview

Michael Haneke interview

The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.

Read our interview with Michael Haneke

Thomas Vinterberg interview

Thomas Vinterberg interview

The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.

Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'

Ten things the 'Twilight' movies did for us

Ten things the 'Twilight' movies did for us

Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.

Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us

On the set of 'Sightseers'

On the set of 'Sightseers'

Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.

Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set

Tim Burton interview

Tim Burton interview

The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.

Read our interview with Tim burton

The top ten Christmas films of 2012

The top ten Christmas films of 2012

Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.

Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'

What's your film guilty pleasure?

What's your film guilty pleasure?

Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.

Read 'Film guilty pleasures'

When teen stars turn serious

When teen stars turn serious

Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.

Read 'When teen stars turn serious'

50 years of James Bond

50 years of James Bond

From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.

Read '50 years of James Bond'

Paul Thomas Anderson interview

Paul Thomas Anderson interview

The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.

Read the interview

Hilarious horror films

Hilarious horror films


Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.

Read 'Hilarious horror films'

Martin McDonagh interview

Martin McDonagh interview

The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.

Read the interview

Autumn horror films

Autumn horror films

We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.

Read about this Autumn's best horror movies

On the set of Skyfall

On the set of Skyfall

Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.

Read 'On the set of Skyfall'

Bond: then and now

Bond: then and now

Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?

Sally Potter interview

Sally Potter interview

The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.

Daniel Craig interview

Daniel Craig interview

'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’