British director Amit Gupta’s debut feature, the superb Resistance (2011, review here), is released in cinemas nationwide this week, and stars exceptional UK talent in the guise of Andrea Riseborough and Michael Sheen. Set in an alternative 1944 where D-Day has failed and the Nazis have crossed the Channel and invaded Britain, the film follows a group of women in a remote village somewhere in the Olchon Valley, who awake to find that all their husbands missing and the village occupied by a small unit of German soldiers. CineVue’s Joe Walsh recently caught up with the film’s director to congratulate him on his completed debut.
Joe Walsh: When did you first come across the Owen Sheers novel Resistance?
Amit Gupta: I first came across the novel in 2008, and I talked to Richard Holmes – who is one of the producers – and asked him about going ahead with a project to direct and co-writing with Sheers.
JW: What was it about the novel that attracted you?
AG: It was the atmosphere of the novel. I know that isn’t really a tangible thing to get hold off, but there was an atmosphere in the novel that was very cinematic and that was something I wanted to capture on a movie screen. And then the story of this woman’s resistance; there were scenes in the novel that I was interested in exploring the themes of occupation. It still felt contemporary, and I wanted that theme of occupation to feel contemporary. But the atmosphere had a strangeness to it, something uncomfortable and I really wanted to capture that.
JW: That strangeness you mention is of course related to the occupation within the film, but do you also think that there is something about the Welsh landscape which permeates both the film and the novel?
AG: The setting is very important, but you don’t have to shoot that – that’s definitely a choice. But my take on the novel was that the landscape would be a character in the film, and an important character. In the process of making a film location is so, so important and those choices of location are so, so important because that is the context you have your characters in. I shot 2:40 aspect on purpose and not just because of the landscape but because I wanted to see those characters within the landscape.
JW: How was it having Sheers on board to adapt the screenplay?
AG: Owen and I got on really well and I didn’t expect any problems, and I don’t think Owen expected any problems. We had an absolute ball doing it, we wrote very quickly and enjoyed the process. We worked initially in Clapham and then he moved to New York so I went out there. We wrote in the day, went out for lunch and dinner or went to see a movie, we just really enjoyed the process as much as possible. I hope to do it again with Owen.
JW: What are you attitudes to literary adaptations?
AG: What’s interesting is there are many people who will think this is a faithful adaptation to the book. Actually it is far from faithful in many ways, it is faithful to the atmosphere but it is a very spare film of a 350-page novel. But why shouldn’t a novel be an inspiration for a movie, anything can be. My attitude was that I wanted to visualise this and make it cinematic and that was what we did. There are literary adaptations out there I don’t like and ones I do like, it very much depends on the film. For instance I really like Wonder Boys (2000) and I know it’s not everyone’s favourite adaptation, but I think it is a really great adaptation of that novel. People talk more about the film than the novel after all.
JW: Casting people capable of handling all these massive themes could not have been easy. How was it casting Sarah (Andrea Riseborough) and Albrecht (Tom Wlaschiha)?
AG: It was an interesting process. I was also knew we would shoot the German in German, so I knew it would be German actors for those parts, and there are many fine German actors, which means you get really great people. I wanted to cast Tom as Albrecht because he felt like someone who was carrying something with him; he carried the history, which worked for the character. It was difficult, I met several people, but when you meet the right one you just know. With Sarah, when I was casting Andrea Riseborough wasn’t available and we had spoken to another actress, this didn’t work out, and luckily by this time Andrea was available. This was great because from the screen writing stage I had wanted Andrea, I had seen a very early cut of Brighton Rock, and I just thought she was amazing. She has an amazing ability to be so still and yet say so much, this was just perfect for the film, I just think she is an amazing actress.
JW: When did Michael Sheen come on board? Was that an early decision?
AG: It was Michael’s decision really. When you send the script out to someone as fantastic as Michael, you just hope really that they will contact with something and will be willing to work on a small budgeted movie. Michael did that which was amazing. At a certain point in people like Michael’s career, you just don’t see the point in doing a film like this unless you want to support young film makers which Michael did.
JW: The Prince of Wales attended the Welsh premiere. How did you react to the news?
AG: I reacted with amazement! I had heard someone in the Prince’s office had seen the movie and told the Prince of Wales and he wanted to see it. It’s an amazing honour, but I was equally impressed that someone from Clarence House thought the film worthy of mentioning to the Prince – just fantastic and astonishing. I was talking to a Hollywood reporter who mentioned that the Prince was attending the world premiere of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) and then in the same sentence mentioned that the Prince was attending my film – it felt rather odd, you don’t really expect to be mentioned in the same article talking about Scorsese. But it is great because it advertises the film and independent needs to be supported.
JW: What will be your next project? Another literary adaptation?
AG: No, actually something completely different. I am adapting a radio play I wrote for Radio 4. It’s a family comedy-drama between two warring chefs set in the Golden Mile, around where I grew up. It’s a very different change of pace…I get dates confirmed in the next few weeks, and it should begin shooting in the spring. It will be finished by the end of next year, so a year or so.
Resistance is released in UK cinemas on 25 November 2011. Read our full review here.