Violence on the streets: Brian Welsh discusses ‘In Our Name’

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A new low-budget British drama tackles the emotional strains of war

Brian Welsh is the director of ‘In Our Name’, a drama which follows a soldier, Suzy (Joanne Froggatt), who returns from Iraq and struggles to adjust to family  life.

Were you influenced by stories in the media of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder?
‘Yes, I’d read a lot of testimonies from both the US and here of severe sufferers of PTSD and I’d had a bit of personal experience of people I knew, which went into the script. But I was interested in the psychological and physiological effects of it as well, and this idea that PTSD can propel people into a state of alert – of hyper-vigilance – as if they’re back in a war zone, and what a stumbling block that is to living a normal life.’

Why did you decide to set it in the north-east? There’s a strong sense of place in the film: we see rows of boarded-up, decaying houses.

‘Yeah, that’s a funny street actually. You know, that’s the street where you can buy a house for 50p… I went to college in the north-east, and I’d travel up and down, and there were always squaddies on the train coming back. Obviously, in a lot of impoverished areas, you go into the job centre and the army is the main viable career option, so it seemed like the perfect place to set it.’

Did you look for actors in the area?
‘Yeah, all the peripheral people were cast up there. We were fortunate that Joanne Froggatt is from Whitby, so she’s close to that part of the world. We were also lucky in that the little girl we cast in the film was from up there: her parents are, unbelievably, squaddies who’d met in the army, so Mel Raido, who plays the husband, spent time with her father, recording his voice and listening to it.’

Did you have official conversations with the army when researching?
‘I tried to communicate with soldiers, not going through official means, although I did call some recruitment places to reaffirm a few details. The first version of the script I wrote with little research, and then went back and had to inform a lot of the military side. The charity Combat Stress, which supports sufferers of PTSD, was helpful, and I spoke to squaddies about what happens when you come back home.’

There’s a ticking time-bomb feeling to the film.
‘I didn’t ever want anyone to feel safe because clearly the onset of these symptoms can, in extreme circumstances, make you unable to distinguish between the streets of Basra and the local Tesco. Something which came through in a lot of the testimonies was the idea of the housing estate becoming a war zone, you know, or not being able to distinguish between fireworks and mortars. I read one story about guys who would patrol their estates. The war follows them home in their head.’

You made this film through a low-budget partnership between the National Film and Television School, where you studied, and the distributor Artificial Eye.

‘The head of the NFTS, Nik Powell, is keen to make connections with industry, so he set this thing up with Artificial Eye to make micro-budget features in a “London to Brighton” style and use some of the resources of the NFTS. We were able to mix the film at the school and use some of the lighting kit. Everyone working on the film was an ex-NFTS student.’

Have soldiers seen the film?
‘For our second screening, we invited a few along. We got one moving letter back from a woman who was in the RAF, but had obviously been in war zones, and she said it was the first film she’d seen she could identify with. And Combat Stress has seen the film and endorsed it. That was probably the most nerve-wracking element of the whole thing, getting the thumbs up from these people.’

Author: Interview: Dave Calhoun



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