Movers and shakers: Joe Wright

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Joe Wright is shaping up to be quite a force in mainstream, intelligent British cinema. The 34-year-old‘s adaptation of ’Pride and Prejudice‘ made a big impression during this year‘s awards season, winning him a Best Newcomer BAFTA and earning his lead actress, Keira Knightley, an Oscar nomination. Wright has since completed another literary adaptation with Knightley in a major role: he spent this summer shooting a $30 million version of Ian McEwan‘s novel, ’Atonement‘, with a cast that includes James McAvoy (see 94), Brenda Blethyn and Vanessa Redgrave.

Movers and shakers: Joe Wright
New entry at 48: Soho auteur, Joe Wright

'I’ve been coming here since I was 15,’ muses Wright when we meet in Soho’s Maison Bertaux café. ‘This used to be Derek Jarman’s favourite spot,’ he says. It’s a comforting nod; better than ‘Ridley Scott used to drink here’ or ‘Guy Ritchie loves their pastries’, which one worries might be the extent of some younger directors’ references.

‘There’s something extraordinary about the British as a people, and I like films that show that, such as “Brief Encounter”, but also Derek Jarman and the whole punk thing. For me, Alan Clarke is the great folk hero of British film. When I was at Anna Scher’s [drama school], he was our hero.’

Wright came to cinema from the BBC, where he made several successful and unusual drama series. First, in 2000, there was ‘Nature Boy’, the strange story of a teenager, David (Lee Ingleby), who traipses the English countryside in search of an absent father. Then came ‘Bodily Harm’ (2002), a dark drama starring Timothy Spall as a middle-aged man facing a mass of crises. It was most likely Wright’s energetic direction of the BAFTA-winning period drama series ‘Charles II’ that convinced production company Working Title he was the right man to direct Deborah Moggach’s script of ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

The road between TV and film in this country is an honourable one – consider Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Stephen Frears – but Wright insists it was cinema, not television, that was on his mind when he studied film at the Camberwell College of Arts and Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. ‘When I was making short films before I worked in TV, I naively thought I’d be offered a feature film before the age of 30. Then I got a call from the BBC and they sent me the script of “Nature Boy”, which I thought was rather good.’ In fact, he was 32 when he made ‘Pride and Prejudice’, so he nearly realised his cocky ambition.

Author: Dave Calhoun. Photography: Rob Greig



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