The Beckett Film Project continued
this week with showings of Neil Jordan’s direction
of ‘Not I’, with Julianne Moore as the disembodied
mouth delivering its stop/start monologue, Patricia
Rozema’s ‘Happy Days’ with Rosaleen
Linehan as Winnie and Richard Johnson as Willie, and
Toronto-based Atom Egoyan’s version of ‘Krapp’s
Last Tape’, with John Hurt in the title role.
What is perhaps most striking about these films is the
high quality of the actors’ performances, aided
no doubt by the fact that both Linehan and Hurt had
already made the characters their own in theatrical
Producer Michael Colgan said that the genesis of the
project came from the theatre, since he was responsible
for bringing all 19 of Beckett’s plays to Dublin’s
Gate Theatre in 1991, and has subsequently toured many
of them abroad. Committing them to film is a way of
not having to keep doing them on stage. He is conscious
of the responsibility involved, since the Beckett estate
gave its permission on the understanding that this would
be a one-off venture, so if it is messed up, there will
be no chance to have another go later on. Also, these
films may well be the only versions of some of the plays
that a sizeable proportion of their audience ever sees.
He is chary of the term ‘definitive’ however,
since every time the plays are performed in a theatre
they will be different, but he does accept that they
are unique. Co-producer Alan Moloney is bowled over
by the positive response so far, with two American distributors
vying to pick the project up.
Fellow Canadians Rozema and Egoyan have in common the
fact that they both directed their favourite plays from
the Beckett canon. In pondering whether Beckett intended
Winnie to be buried up to her chest, and later her neck,
in a room or in a desolate desert expanse, Rozema chose
the latter option, and ‘Happy Days’ was
shot in Tenerife, 3000 feet above sea level, beside
a volcano. Linehan, who never misses an opportunity
to highlight the humour, while also capturing the underlying
pathos, suffered altitude sickness and smarting eyes
from blowing dust, but still turns in a highly nuanced
performance. Egoyan fought hard for ‘Krapp’,
since it was his father’s favourite play, and
he remembers reading it as a 15-year-old boy in British
Columbia. Now 39, Egoyan is the same age Krapp was when
he made the tape he listens to in the play as a disillusioned
69-year-old, with contempt for the younger self he hears.
Egoyan says that this play explains his own film work
more than any other single influence, and readily acknowledges
that his first short, ‘Howard in Particular’,
made when he was 18, is an unabashed reworking of ‘Krapp’.
Hurt employs his distinctive, often harrowing vocal
range to its fullest, rendering Beckett’s words
all the more potent and profound in what is the most
autobiographical of the writer’s dramatic works.
In Belfast-born Dudi Appleton’s first full-length
feature ‘The Most Fertile Man in Ireland’,
Eamonn Manley (Kris Marshall) hasn’t much going
for him. At 24, he is still a virgin, living with his
overbearing mother and working in a local Dating Agency.
At night he hides in his room, dreaming of romance with
a girl he’s too scared to approach. After an encounter
with local good time girl Mary Mallory (Tara Lynn O’Neill)
Eamonn learns he has a unique gift: he has the highest
sperm count in Ireland. With male fertility rates plummeting,
he finds himself in great demand, and is persuaded by
co-worker Millicent (Bronagh Gallagher) to start providing
his services to the good ladies of Belfast, for a fee.
With newfound confidence, he finally asks Rosie (Kathy
Kiera Clarke) out. Entirely unaware of his new profession
she finds herself drawn to the innocent, awkward Eamonn.
Meanwhile, Eamonn has come to the attention of Mad Dog
Billy Wilson (James Nesbitt), formerly ‘the most
feared and ruthless’ paramilitary in Belfast,
who now finds himself in a world that no longer endorses
his services. Aware that the higher birth rate in the
Catholic community means Protestants will no longer
be in the majority, he is determined to recruit Eamonn
to even the score.
A Hornbyesque look at the redundant male, with an added
comic spin on Northern Irish sexual and social politics,
Appleton says his film is ‘about the notion of
being a man now’. Written by long-time collaborator
Jim Keeble, it features brightly coloured production
design, and is an irreverent and refreshing take on
a place that has too often been depicted as grey and
Irish audiences will get their first taste of the Becketts
and ‘The Most Fertile Man’ at next week’s
Belfast Film Festival.
First published in The Sunday Tribune