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“So much at stake in the UK”

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Lone Scherfig • Director

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- We have interviewed Lone Scherfig, whose latest feature, Their Finest, was the Mayor of London’s Gala at the 60th BFI London Film Festival

Lone Scherfig • Director
(© Naman Ramachandran / Cineuropa)

After world premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, acclaimed Danish director Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Lone Scherfig
film profile
]
had its European premiere at the 60th BFI London Film Festival where it was the Mayor of London’s Gala. Starring Gemma Arterton, Bill Nighy and Sam Claflin, the film is a witty and humorous look at the world of British propaganda films during World War II and at the same time is a sweeping romance and a triumph of feminism. Scherfig directed from a script by Gaby Chiappe, which is based on Lissa Evans’ novel Their Finest Hour And A Half. Cineuropa had a freewheeling chat with Scherfig about the film and a range of other topics including the hot-button question of Brexit.

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Cineuropa: What attracted you to Their Finest?
Lone Scherfig: Inthis chapter in British film history films were so important. Every day when they went to work they wouldn’t know whether they’d be a set, or someone had been drafted. So people were promoted very quickly and still shot some of the best films I’ve ever seen. The story of a few women who were hired to write ‘slop’ – women’s dialogue for these films – hasn’t been told before. And it’s about things that I really love – scriptwriting and film shooting – and set in such a dramatic time. When I read the script and when I read the book I fell for the character of Ambrose Hilliard [A vain, over the hill actor played by Nighy]; I fell for Tom Buckley [a British information ministry writer played by Claflin], a man who is very lovable and witty; and I fell for the tone and I felt I could contribute something. I felt very much at home immediately even though it was a time and a place I haven’t lived in.

Right from Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
(2010) through to Their Finest, with An Education [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, One Day and The Riot Club [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
in between, you’ve been a chronicler of different aspects of British society and history. What keeps bringing you back to these British stories?
I was always much more historically interested in the last century than times further back. And I think that may have to do with the fact that I like the time travel you can make as a director when you enter a certain period. I love working in the UK because it’s not just the scripts and the actors and the architecture but also the underlying drama, the danger, the beauty, the wit. I feel that British humour is incredibly attractive but also there is so much at stake in the UK, compared to Scandinavia. 

What do you mean by ‘so much at stake’?
It’s a more dramatic society. The social differences are bigger. The war here hit every single person in a much more dramatic way than it did most of Scandinavia. Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself is a good example – when we moved there [Glasgow, Scotland] the characters had more to lose, it was harder for them to survive their every day lives. So it added wildness and drama to the film and took it off the ground in a way I find is easier here. Maybe it is because I’m not at home that I can see things in a different way and I dare show things. I get less timid because it’s not about me, it’s about what I love and what I’m interested in and what I’d like to share. The distance helps me somehow. 

Is that why you’ve not made a film in Denmark since Just Like Home [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
in 2007?
It might be. It could also be because I get very good scripts in the UK. And I’m not done with this. I really like working with the actors here. Of course when you do a film there are only so many days when you actually direct actors, there is much more work around it, but there are such work ethics in the UK and discipline and kindness and modesty and great, great people in the sound department and the art department – it would be really hard to say goodbye. It’s as if I’ve had my adult career in the UK and much more earlier films in Denmark – that was dating and this is marriage. But the next film takes place in the United States. 

As you love it so much, what do you think Brexit will mean to the British film industry?
I hope the UK will continue to know what it has, its strengths. Their Finest shows how strong British cinematic identity is. I know that the UK already knows that but when you can no longer look so much to Europe, then look more towards the US because you have the language in common that you don’t lose the strong identity with films as an art form that you have always have had in the UK. Finance is going to be harder I think. I’m definitely going to miss the UK, so I hope there are ways to co-produce across the countries. I hope to be able to co-produce from Scandinavia with the UK and just pretend that it never happened.

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