Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s December Bride, Charles Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger plus The Grifters, Three Men and a Little Lady and Men at Work reviewed.


The frat pack

Kenny Mathieson talks to Thaddeus O’Sullivan, the director of the unconventional rural drama December Bride.

Thaddeus O’Sullivan made his initial impression as a director of promise with the award-winning short The Woman Who Married Clark Cable in 1985. The step up to a full-length feature seemed only a matter of time for the former lighting cameraman, who had already graduated to Director of Photography on the confused Rocinante, Norman Hull‘s Ladder of 5 words. and the Welsh epic On The Black Hill.

That debut, December Bride. based on a novel by Sam Hanna Bell, is closest in both spirit and realisation to the latter film. Set in a bleak corner of rural Northern Ireland at the end of the 19th century, it is the story ofa strong-willed young woman who defies social and religious convention in this strongly Presbyterian community by setting up home with two brothers. When she bears a child to one or other ofthem. she then further outrages local opinion by refusing a face-saving marriage. opting instead to live with both men.

‘There have been a number of people who were interested in making a film ofthe book.‘ O’Sullivan recalls, ‘and I was first approached by another production company with a different script about seven years ago. I read the novel then for the first time. although I knew of it before then.

‘I was attracted by the setting of the Presbyterian community, which is not one I knew much about, and I was looking to do a film about Northern Ireland. That is all background. though. It was really the central story which I found gripping, and especially the story of the woman, Sarah. and this strange love affair with two men. with all its attendant social and religious pressures which the whole family had to endure as a consequence.

‘I was also intrigued by the liberalism ofthe men, which is an element of the Presbyterian tradition which seems to have been forgotten about. I saw the two men as maybe embodying different aspects of maleness. The younger brother Frank (Ciaran Hinds) is quite sensuous and physically attractive. while Hamilton (Donal McCann) might offer a future which is more stable and reliable, including eventually inheriting the land itself.‘

18 The List 8 - 21 February 1991

In a more conventional film, the drama would hinge around which of the two men Sarah would choose; here. though. she makes no such choice. and neither do the men. Instead. the struggle takes place on a social level. with the wrathful community. and with the land itselfwhich has played such an important part in forming these people.

‘We wanted landscape to function as a character. with a kind ofpersonality. rather than just as a pretty background for each scene. It is very important in the book. and I felt it was essential for us to give some understanding ofthe characters through the landscape which shapes their lives. We filmed in the same area as the book describes at Strangford Lough. and we tried to be very consistent in our use of it.

‘It is not all that typical ofthe guidebook Ireland we are used to seeing. and I had a private idea that it was actually a very Presbyterian landscape. In fact. the region has a very strong Scottish background. especially in the Presbyterian tradition. I also wanted the

. mfihfim :7 ' . Cla characters on the edge ofsomething. with the threat from the mainland always present in the distance.‘

Saskia Reeves rises admirably to the difficult part ofSarah. although the Dublin-born O’Sullivan admits that he ‘began looking in Northern Ireland. then tried the South, and then Scotland. but we didn‘t find the right person. I had the feeling that an Irish or Scots actress might be more tuned in to the part. but in the end we found Saskia in London. and as it turned out she had a very strong Dutch Presbyterian family background that was actually quite close to the ethos ofthe film.‘

December Bride uses the period setting and bleak but beautifully filmed landscape to great (if slow-moving) effect, and has already picked up a couple of awards on the Film Festival circuit. The director. meanwhile, is currently working on a film adaptation of Irish novelist John Banville‘s The Book ovaidence from Banville‘s own script. a project which he hopes to start later this year.

Hinds (left) and Saskia Reeves in December Bride