A little bit of hay festival magic today: the Gruffalo met Superfudge – or rather, their creators. Julia Donaldson on the left, Judy Blume seated. Photo @sarahjhyder
The theatre and film director Richard Eyre discusses Shakespeare’s History plays, and their role in our understanding of Britain’s identity.
“I’m going to free associate” he begins “rather than give an organised lecture”. He’s a big fan of Henry IV Parts I and II but King Lear is his favourite because it’s the story of fatherhood. Goethe said “every father is in some sense a King Lear”. The relationships between fathers and their offspring are invariably central to Shakespeare’s history plays. Eyre talks about his own Dorset upbringing where there was little artistic stimulation. The nearest cinema was 12 miles away and his own parents did not encourage him to read.
Eyre’s free association moves on to the making of The Hollow Crown, the films he directed featuring Henry IV Parts I and II and executive produced for the BBC by Sam Mendes. The audience at Hay was treated to a substantial excerpt. “I wanted to run at that length because it demonstrates a lot of things that are important in translating from the theatre to film” said Eyre. Part of the challenge is to honour the rythym and structure of the Shakespearian language with the more naturalistic requirements of film. Something that Eyre says requires great actors. “We had a cast that it’s inconceivable that you could have in the theatre…every actor that I asked to be in it said yes”.
Martin Sixsmith’s book Philomena has become an award-winning film by screenwriter and actor Steve Coogan and the director Stephen Frears. Alan Yentob begins by challenging the two of them as to the authenticity of the story as it appears on the screen.
Frears is happy to admit that parts of the story are invented and believes this makes the telling better. Coogan on the other hand fiercely defends the accuracy of the central tenets of the film. Coogan he was making Philomena and Alpha Papa the return of Alan Partridge at much the same time and it was a challenge. “Alan Partridge is a middle Englander, typical Daily Mail reader but he’s not a Ukip voter”. Looking back at the early incarnations of the character Coogan finds him one-dimensional but believes that over 20 years he and Alan have become more and more alike “by the time I die we’ll be the same”.
Yentob moves on to talking about Rob Brydon and The Trip – the series were the two actors play versions of themselves exposing their genuine character flaws “we had an unwritten rule that we were allowed to push each others buttons”, but there were things that Coogan did not want included and would say “I’m not doing that in the middle of a take”. Coogan likes The Trip but not as much as others do.
Frears is responsible for an incredible catalogue of films; ‘The Grifters’, ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’, ‘Dangerous Liaisons’, ‘High Fidelity’ and going further back ‘If’ on which he was Assistant Director. He tells Yentob that the breadth of films is because they had good writers and he took what he was offered “no-one encouraged me to be an auteur”.