18 February 2010

Don't Worry About Me

Your Mad Prophet went on the road earlier this week in a fit of journalistic initiative. Having been offered a place at a BAFTA workshop with David Morrissey and a seat at a screening of his directorial feature debut, Don't Worry About Me, I jumped at the chance to do a little bit of film journalism rather than whinging about Michael Bay's 3D romcoms, or whatever.

Sometime soon, I'm planning to adapt this into some kind of feature article to get the word about this film to as many people as possible, thought I'd share the more exasperating and less relevant bits of my day, along with some of my thoughts on the film, with you, my faithful... couple of readers.

The novelisation of the journey would probably be called The Mad Prophet versus The Rail Bastards, having been hindered and mocked by numerous train station employees both to and from Newcastle. At Middlesbrough train station, I missed the 12.30pm train because of some gubbins with a broken vending machine, and thus had to get the train an hour later and arrive at Newcastle train station at 2.55pm. The workshop started at 3pm.

That's not really the story though, because it was definitely worth the sheer stress of that morning and the journey to get to the workshop and the screening. I managed to approach David Morrissey himself at one point, but having never interviewed someone I admire so much before then, let me set the scene for you- there are a ton of other people wanting to talk to him, and I'm clutching a sheet of questions I wrote up on the train, having misplaced the well-researched and clever questions while sitting around in Middlesbrough waiting for a train. With the growing queue, I figured I had time to ask about three questions, and I hadn't yet seen the film I was interested in asking him about. Nerves kicked in in a big way, and so I've since mythologised the conversation that followed in my head as me making an absolute arse of myself.

Putting my star-struck demeanour aside and talking about proper things, I greatly admired his passion for his work. The workshop was informative and engaging, and a great insight into his work on character and directing. Once we came face to face, I think I'm expressing more humility than you're supposed to as an interviewer by saying that I didn't really ask any of the intelligent questions I was aiming for about his working process, and I hope I looked more composed than I felt. Having accepted that I'm no Paxman when it comes to interviews, I went on to the screening of Don't Worry About Me at the Tyneside Cinema. It seems almost surplus to requirements to mention that the cinema was superb, but I loved it. They let me take alcohol into the screening too, a concession I hope I'll be allowed at my local multiplex when Transformers 3 comes out.

And so onto the film. It tells the story of the chance meeting between David and Tina. David is a cocksure London lad who chases a one-night stand to Liverpool in the hope of winning her affections and gratitude. When that doesn't pan out, he strikes up a friendship with Tina, a local girl with a troubled family life, and the two of them race around Liverpool getting to know one another and bickering quite a lot. From the outset I want to say that it's brilliant. James Brough and Helen Elizabeth play David and Tina, and they also adapted the script from their own stage play, something I wasn't aware of from all that meticulous research I mentioned.

The film was made for £100,000 and funded entirely independently of film financiers, and it looks incredible. It doesn't look like a polished HD realer-than-real picture, but that's refreshingly organic, especially as so much work has clearly gone into the development of the script- it looks somehow more real for its visual sensibility, and of course for its tremendous performances. James Brough is somewhat unlikable as David by the end of the film, but I adored Helen Elizabeth as Tina. She's instantly endearing, and it seems almost churlish to suggest I might have believed her so much because I didn't know her from anything else, or because she wrote the script, because she is really really good in this. I actually can't imagine there'll be a more accomplished, heartbreaking or just downright wonderful breakthrough performance this year. Brilliant writing by- and for- a brilliant actress, and both the script and performances mark Brough and Elizabeth as talents to look out for in the future.

Morrissey is credited for his screenwriting- which in the Q&A was said to have included a violent attack on a large plushy teddy bear around halfway through the film- and for his direction. As a portrait of Liverpool, it's comparable to Terrance Davies' Of Time and the City, only I feel Morrissey imbued his film with much more warmth and a much greater sense of what he loves about the city. Hell, I wish someone would make a film in Middlesbrough that was shot half as well, then maybe Phil Spencer and Kirsty Allsop would retract their "cesspit" snarking and bugger off. There are some wonderful visual devices throughout, particularly in the standout scene where the two characters are set apart visually by a confessional box but brought closer together by the dialogue. That scene also has a wonderful monologue by Elizabeth, and I'm deadly serious in reiterating that that woman will go on to do great things. This is a great thing, and I'm anticipating more.

The only real complaint I can think of is that its 80-minute runtime went by too quickly, but I can hardly quibble when a film is so good that I want more of it. Don't Worry About Me is a fine romantic drama and a veritable melting-pot of new talent to boot. If I had to pitch it to you in familiar terms, I'd say it's like Before Sunrise relocated to Liverpool, but it's never derivative enough to warrant "familar terms". Newcastle was the fourth stop on a nationwide tour for Morrissey and Elizabeth, bringing the film to audiences all across the land. It's shameful that the film hasn't been picked up by a distributor and put in cinemas nationwide, but for anyone who seeks it out, it's a terrific monument to what's possible in independent film. It's released on DVD on March 8th, and I whole-heartedly recommend you give it a watch. It really deserves it.

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