Sightseers and Lawless at the FDA Showcase
This week, Film3Sixty attended the Film Distributors’ Association Showcase, an event that screens upcoming films and hosts Q&As with directors and stars. We went along to check out Ben Wheatley - the director of Kill List - present his new film Sightseers, and John Hillcoat – director of The Road and The Proposition - show his latest feature Lawless.
Sightseers is a brilliant mixture of comedy and dark, unsettling violence, culminating in an experience that leaves you halfway between tears of laughter and tears of despair. The film follows a Birmingham couple, Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe), who embark on a caravanning holiday to Yorkshire, much to the chagrin of the girl’s overbearing mother (Psycho connections, anyone?). Once they’ve left, via Crich Tram Museum, the trip takes an inadvertent turn for the lurid, with Chris’ penchant for murderous violence becoming an issue when he is confronted by littering tourists, rude ‘Daily Mail readers’ and snobby caravanners. However, Tina decides that she doesn’t want these events to, “ruin the holiday,” so they continue, traversing Yorkshire with blood-stained tyres.
The obvious difficulty when approaching Sightseers, a project with such distinct, clashing themes, is achieving a balance that makes it palatable for the viewer. Speaking after the screening – which received a warm ovation from the audience of critic-types present – Wheatley tells us that, “the tonal thing is about rooting it in some kind of reality, rather than making it too harsh. When the audience are with them and believe that they’re real, the moving from the comedy to the violence doesn’t seem so out of sorts…you’re laughing at it, so you’re slightly responsible as well.” And let’s not forget, despite the thoroughly bleak nature of his last film Kill List, it was still very funny in parts.
Wheatley had just completed his feature debut Down Terrace when he was approached with the screenplay. He’d worked with Alice and Steve before on TV, and decided to do the project because, “Kill List was just about to go into production and [he knew] it was going to be really horrible and depressing, [so he] wanted to make a comedy afterwards.” Calling Sightseers a ‘comedy’ is a bit like calling Kill List an action thriller, but for Wheatley it’s a perfect mixture – it’s a different genre, but it certainly still fits into his oeuvre.
The film started on stage as a two-person character comedy Alice Lowe and Steve Oram would perform together. They decided to develop a treatment of the act for television, which was quickly turned down for being “too dark”, so they subsequently turned it into a feature. The pair sent it to Edgar Wright, who is currently directing his ‘Three Flavours Cornetto’ trilogy conclusion The World’s End, and he spied the potential, coming onboard as an exec producer.
Speaking thematically about the film, Alice and Steve (who are very much a double-act), tell us that the initial idea came from a belief that, “We thought it would be funny having Brummies killing people and going to castles.” Steve’s dad picked the locations, being a keen sightseer himself. As a means of research, they actually went on a real caravanning holiday together to the locations depicted. To choose the film’s numerous victims, they picked a variety of traditional caravanning nuisances; litterers, stuck up posh people, kids playing balls games… “I’m glad we cut the lengthy child murder scene,” Wheatley quips.
The next film on show was Lawless, a robust tale of a gang of bootlegging brothers in prohibition America. The impeccable cast (Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Shia LaBeouf, Mia Wasikowska) fill the film with a wealth of characterisation, and the beautiful backwater American setting is expertly captured by DOP Benoît Delhomme. Director John Hillcoat sat down with us after the screening to talk about his latest feature, which is adapted from Matt Bondurant’s book The Wettest County In The World.
Hillcoat speaks in depth about the cast members, including Shia LaBeouf who he says, “was the first one on and wouldn’t let it go.” Back when the project was in the early stages of development, Ryan Gosling, Michael Shannon, Paul Dano, Amy Adams and Scarlett Johansson were all attached to star at various points, but Hillcoat couldn’t get it off the ground due to studio reservations; for example, he had one offer to relocate it to a city, due to “audience familiarity,” he believes, which he rejected.
Eventually, the cast was almost entirely revamped and the film got made. When picking the likes of Hardy, Jason Clarke and LaBeouf (who play the three Bondurant brothers), on screen chemistry was integral to making them believable siblings. For Hillcoat, the way they looked wasn’t the important factor in establishing this, but the way they talked; the southern drawl is most taken on by Hardy, who grunts and murmurs his way through the entire film. The director praises Hardy’s methods, though states that they “greatly unsettled” him during the shoot, “in rehearsals he announced that his approach was to [play the character] as an old lesbian, like the grandma from Tweety Bird [the Looney Tunes animation].”
Hillcoat says that him and screenwriter Nick Cave loved the novel’s setting (Virginia, 1920s), particularly the music. He also talks about his interest in the present themes, stating that they’re not so distant; he compares prohibition to the current war on drugs, which he labels an “epic failure,” words which are not applicable to his latest film.
Lawless hits UK cinemas on 7 September.