Monthly Archives: October 2013


Satsumas are back in the shops.  This is very good news, because I love them (I’m eating one at the moment in fact) though it’s a sure sign the year is moving towards its inevitable conclusion.   This week also saw the graduation of the Central Film School students, of which I was one, at BAFTA on Piccadilly.  What I’ve discovered over the last year is that film-making in general, and scriptwriting in particular, is very hard and requires frankly preposterous levels of commitment in terms of time, perseverance and emotional energy, so it’s nice to experience a little bit of the glamour that goes with it from time to time.   I was also extremely surprised, honoured and grateful to be selected as the school’s screenwriter of the year, particularly as there was such a strong cohort of fellow students.  What this means in practice is that after months of keyboard-bashing, soul-searching, tears and parental neglect, I now have a small plastic trophy on my mantelpiece – yay!    All in all, my time at CFSL has been intense, emotional and massively instructive.  During the year I spent there, I’ve learned a huge amount from some of the most incredible tutors in the business, so I hope they won’t mind me taking this opportunity to say a big thank you to all those involved.

 One of the things I’ve come to realise is that I need to be braver and less conventional in the stories I create.  I have to make my characters do wilder, more precarious, more unpredictable things and I have to put them in more interesting places and situations.   Structure I can do more or less and I think I’m beginning to get the hang of characterisation, but what I need now is to find what’s magical and surprising in terms of  images, actions and ideas that will set my stories alight and make them unforgettable.  I’ve been working on a short screenplay for a friend.  Basically, it’s a rites of passage story  about an old woman who can no longer cope with living in her own home, and her over-worked daughter, who comes to take her to a care home.  I like the characters, especially the old woman, who’s wilful and quite obstreperous, but it still needs something extra – a stronger twist, a bigger surprise – to really bring it to life.   Maybe what I should do is get my heroine onto a tightrope or roller-skates or perhaps free-running along the roof of the National Gallery, though I recognise that persuading a seventy-five year old actor to actually do this might be a bit of a challenge.  Heck, it needs something though!

 Talking of character studies, over the weekend I saw Mister John, which stars the amazingly lovely and talented Aidan Gillen.  The story doesn’t entirely work, not least because some of the situations set up in the film don’t quite pay off with sufficient conviction or drama.  However, as a study of someone who is wholly adrift, both physically and emotionally, it was rather moving.  Deftly avoiding any hint of pathos, Gillen was pitch perfect as a man utterly disorientated by a double whammy of bereavement and his wife’s betrayal, who battles despair as he struggles to confront the loss of both his brother and his marriage.  I heartily recommend.

 Acht – writing this, I’ve forgotten to do the laundry again – damn!


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No sour grapes

 It’s been awfully chilly this week.  I’ve been trying to tidy up the garden, mowing the lawn hopefully for the last time before next spring, cutting back summer perennials and collecting up the last of the fruit and veg.  It’s a melancholy business.  We have an old, prolific vine which produces copious clusters of small black grapes and once again, I realise we’ve reached mid-October and I still haven’t worked out if they’re suitable for wine-making, and if so how to go about making wine in the first place.  (Any recipes would be gratefully received.)    As a result, the grapes are now tumbling onto the patio, where the birds and foxes love feasting on them.  At least they won’t go entirely to waste, I suppose.

                Now that my screenwriting course is over, and I’ve re-written the script for my graduation feature for the second time, I find myself at a loose and slightly lonely end.  It’s easy to lose any sense of momentum and I miss the cosy camaraderie of college life.  I should no doubt be sending my story – about an ex IRA man who abandons witness protection and returns to face his demons in Belfast – out into the world to see if it can find a welcoming home of some sort, ideally with a lovely production company with an empty slate and a very large pot of money.  Oh I dream, I dream!  And for the umpteenth time, I question the sanity of my chosen path.  Why am I attempting to do this absurd and impossible thing?   Somehow I’ve managed to get myself to a stage where nothing else is possible for me.  A small part of me genuinely wants to find a sensible nine-to-five type job that pays a regular salary; a much larger part of me dreads the very thought of doing such a thing.   Besides, a new idea has already begun to bubble and brew in my head, and it will soon invade my heart and imagination to the exclusion of all else, and then alas genuinely gainful employment will seem even more unconscionable.   

                A few days ago, I saw Roger Michell’s Le Week-end.  The film gives an intimate and tender portrayal of a marriage, where the battle lines were drawn up long ago and the scars of long-standing resentments have never quite healed.  Yet at the same time, the disappointments are more than balanced by the consolations of friendship, familiarity and long shared history.  Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan are completely convincing as Nick and Meg, a middle-class couple in their sixties who are surprised to find themselves left with something truly enviable, when the habitual deceits and vanities with which they defend themselves are stripped away.   It’s a genuinely moving, beautifully written story for grown-ups and as a consequence, it will soon disappear from the few screens where it’s showing.  I doubt it will make any money, or if it does, not nearly as much as it deserves.     In recent years, there’s been a great deal of hand-wringing about the state of the British film industry; but if the gormless comedies and cheesy romances mean that films like this get funded, then all is not lost.

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Get Andrei out of jail!

I was deeply shocked to learn yesterday that my former colleague, Andrei Allakhverdov, has been detained as one of the Arctic 30 Greenpeace activists who were protesting against the activities of Gazprom.   Andrei accompanied me on a memorable trip to Astrakhan back in the 90s when we were recording material for a series of BBC radio programmes.  I particularly valued his professionalism and his unfailing good humour  in the face of the widespread post-Soviet chaos prevailing Russia at that time.  I very much fear for him in the Russian penal system, so to my two fantastic followers (so far…) and anyone else who happens to read this, do please consider signing this petition to get Andrei and the other 29 detainees released as soon as possible!   Many, many thanks.

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Strong female characters

 You can tell it’s autumn; X-factor, Downton Abbey and now Homeland are all back on the telly.   I enjoyed Season One of Homeland, never quite got round to watching Season Two and am hoping to pick it up again with Season Three.  This week’s episode was powerfully carried by Claire Danes, whose excellent portrayal of Carrie Mathison was as compellingly watchable as ever.  Struggling with my own attempts at characterisation, it doesn’t escape my notice that Carrie is brilliantly written – full of contradictions and vulnerabilities, prone to increasingly self-destructive behaviour and yet at the same time brave, intuitive and highly intelligent.    I’m still trying to decide if she’s likeable, and whether it matters if she isn’t.  What’s beyond question is she’s never predictable and it’s hard not to sympathise with her dilemma, even when it’s self-inflicted.

                Another well-written if deeply unlikeable female character is Jasmine in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.  Perhaps only someone of Allen’s stature could have got away with creating a protagonist who’s quite so devoid of warmth or indeed any sort of appealing characteristics.  To further reinforce the viewers’ antipathy, Cate Blanchett takes care not to overplay Jasmine’s more pathological behaviours, making it crystal clear she has no-one to blame for her woes but herself.  Blanchett thus provides a mesmerising portrait of a woman who refuses with every fibre of her being to let reality or human empathy pierce the carapace of her self-deluded snobbery.  By contrast, the character of Ginger seems sketchier and harder to pin down and at times it feels as if she’s there as much as a “sweet” contrast to Jasmine’s hard-core egotism, as she is as a character in her own right.  There’s very little sense of what Ginger herself wants out of life, or what she really thinks about a sister in whose face most people would quite justifiably slam the door.   A key element of the plot hangs on the idea that Ginger allows herself to be influenced by the more forceful and socially confident Jasmine before seeing her in her true light.  This, however, has the effect of making her seem diffident and rather flaky.   I guess the risk is that in trying to create subtle characters, it’s easy to fall into the trap of creating ones that are simply unknowable or too ill-defined to hold the audience’s attention.

                 On a slightly different tack, this week sees the anniversary of the shooting of Malala Yousafzai and with it a reminder that even in this day and age, more than sixty million girls around the world don’t have access to education.  Malala herself is an incredibly inspirational figure on whose shoulders it seems there’s an ever growing burden of expectation.  She’s right to identify constructive engagement as the only real solution to the challenges posed by those who wish to entrench traditional values at the expense of social – and particularly female – emancipation.   It’s simple and obvious, though regrettably not something that has so far been pursued with any degree of commitment.  Resolving one’s differences through discussion is deeply humanising to all those involved.  It’s thus immensely heartening to see John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov sit down in a spirit of evident amity to talk about disarming Syria’s chemical weapons.  What a tremendous coup success would be, and how very much more hopeful than yet another round of airstrikes.


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