Brighton Rock Q&A
Director Rowan Joffe and producer Paul Webster on the new adaptation
How does feel making this film?
Webster: "This is a film we've laboured long and hard on with much love, and it's obviously based on a very famous novel, and it was equally hard doing a new version of the film, which is equally famous. We're happy with it, and I'm extremely happy to have had a great working relationship with Rowan, who wrote the script and was our director."
Joffe: "This is not a remake. That film is perfect. We just loved the book so much that, like a Shakespeare, we thought it deserved another adaptation. That may be a terrible mistake; this could be the last film I ever made. Just to fill you in, this is him seducing a waitress who was a witness to the murder he committed to work his way up in the ranks of petty crime. We've set it in 1964 rather than the 1930s, because that time in Brighton equals mods and rockers, because we thought that was a great time to set a story about a young man flexing his muscles."
The film looks really atmospheric, combining the original Greene novel with Quadrophenia. Did you try to make it cool?
Joffe: "I hadn't read the book since A-levels, and it turns out it's a very cool book. Pinky is a demonic, vibrant man of few words, and it's impossible not to tingle as you get to know him. Sam Riley, who is extraordinary in Control and is the most charismatic soon to be star around, is like Alain Delon, but from Leeds.
Webster: "The moment we were developing the script when everything came into focus was when Rowan came up with the idea of relocating to 1964, because it just connects it to now. That element of cool came in naturally, and particularly our leading actor embodies that.
Were any structural changes needed for that?
Rowan: "There have been some structural changes, but I made them all with Graham Greene's ghost sitting on my shoulder tutting. The guy you saw in the first scene is Kite, whose death is referred to in the book but you don't see. We're told in the book that he's killed in a railway station but budgets being what they are we couldn't do that, so we thought the seafront had the same Victorian feel and the sea fog the same feel as steam. We refined the character of Ida a bit. In the book she was a tart with a heart, probably based on Mae West. We conflated a couple of characters and made her the tea room proprietess, who might have been a tart with a heart in the past, but that seemed to solidify her character and give her a reason to protect Rose.
Talk us through the rest of the cast?
Webster: "Well, there's Sam. Andrea Riseborough is going to be one of our major actresses, although you may have seen her in Never Let Me Go."
Joffe: "I wanted Helen Mirren...I got it in my head that she was it but I thought I didn't have a hope in hell of getting her, but the film gods were with us. The character of Phil, played by John Hurt, I couldn't imagine anyone better, and he was my initial choice for the role. He didn't really want to be in the movie, and I'm not sure that I did a particularly good job when I took him to Nandos of convincing him. But I'm very proud to be working with the two of them, having watched them making extraordinary movies all my life.
How was shooting in Brighton?
Webster: "Keith Waterhouse famously called Brighton a town that's helping the police with their enquiries. We found it much more convenient and period-wise more accurate to shoot the whole pier stuff in Eastbourne, which is sort of preserved. The world of piers, Eastbourne is derided as the worst pier you could have, but its genteel dilapidation was perfect for us. But we did shoot in Brighton for a few days."
Joffe: "We were there, and I got pier envy cause it was so big. But out DoP said that he could only shoot a 20-degree angle there. We didn't have the money to VFX out things that didn't fit the timeframe there."
In the clips we saw, the music was striking, a big orchestral score. Considering it's in the 60s, why that route?
Joffe: That's a really good question. We struggled with that for a while. It comes down to the fact that you want to stay true to the character, and Pinky hates music; it makes him want to vomit - like a lot of psychopaths he hates emotion. So we decided to honour the noir taste of the film instead and have a huge classical score. So we scored in the way that composers used to score 50 years ago, where the score reflects the slightest change of expression in an actor's face - and the choirs give you a sense of heaven and hell. What makes Greene's story special is that Pinky isn't just facing the noose, but an eternity in hell in his own mind."
Was there resistance by backers to your project given how well loved the original is?
Webster: "No, because the principal bakers, Studio Canal and Optimum own the rights to the remake. We're really lucky to have them. It was actually very easy in that regard - not least because the original was made more than 60 years ago, and it felt that we could revisit the same idea more than once a century - at the same time being very aware of being true to the original material all the time. That Graham Greene's ghost thing is no joke. That's a scary thing. But so far we've had a good response to it. But you are the first members of the public to see any of it.
Joffe: "I think you would be idiotic and arrogant to take on something like this without being aware of the burden. But if you love the book, I think you'll agree that apart from the epoch our film is closer in many ways to the book, because we are not labouring under the censorship of the 1940s. One character in the book was choked on a stick of Brighton rock; in the original film he was just pushed off a ghost train, which is not as visceral."
We saw a credit for the UK Film Council. How involved were they and how do you feel about their demise?
Webster: "They had a lot to do with it. They were an incredibly easy organisation to work with once you've gotten past the hurdles of getting in. I think it's a great shame that the government rushed into this decision adn I think they're backpedalling already. I don't think it'll survive in its current form, but I hope that something similar will exist. The thing is that the biggest market for English-speaking films is the US, but these days you pretty much discount getting American money, so I very much hope that we can talk the government into looking at the 360-degree picture of it, looking at the employment generated and the economic side never mind the cultural side. Overall they are the best screen agency in the world, and do the best job. And most of what they do we don't even see - production is only a small part of their activities, and the world is poorer without that."
Without wanting to give away the ending of the film or the book, both are different but what way is your ending going?
Joffe: "Graham Greene and Terence Rattigen both claim to have come up with the ending of the film, which indicates that Greene was pretty happy with that. So because of that, and because I couldn't think of anything better, we went with that.
Did you think of the fact that Greene was a critic too? Maybe he'll be watching....
Joffe: Greene wrote some very bad films, and once wrote a review of his own film saying, "Let one guilty man stand up." So I think he'd have a very dry sense of humour about it, but we've done everything we can to stay true to the spirit of the story, and I hope he'd appreciate that.