ushed to say something complimentary about Michael Winner, even his greatest detractors will grudgingly admit that at least he’s refused to follow the migratory path to Hollywood. But before three cheers can ring out for Mr Winner’s laudable commitment to the British ﬁlm industry, memories of the movies he actually makes here — Caine and Moore in Bullseye! and the stodgy Chorus 0f Disapproval - turn the accolade soun
Winner has, in recent years, been far more convincing when acting as an industry spokesman against issues of censorship and the tightening of obscenity laws than when putting his ideas onto celluloid. The man who brought us not one, not two, but three Death Wish movies has become some sort of love/hate national institution, a larger-than-life chauvinist stereotype who bites back with wit and undoubted intelligence. Nevertheless, his True Crimes series packs in the viewers, his megalomaniacal Sunday Times food column is widely read. And his latest movie, an adaptation of Helen Zahavi’s acclaimed female vigilante fantasy Dirty Weekend, has set UK critics ablaze.
‘The obvious thing is to say, “Here is a female Death Wish” and that’s that,’ he argues. ‘But I think the two films are immensely different, other than the one similarity of being about a citizen who society cannot protect and who
L______. _.-_ 10 The List 22 October—4 November 1993
At ﬁrst glance, MICHAEL WINNER seemed to be the least likely
candidate to direct a big screen version of HELEN ZAHAVI’s feminist
revenge novel Dirty Weekend. Alan Morrison views the result and talks to the main players.
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eventually flips, going out to avenge not only their own injustice but, as it were, the injustice of everybody by overkill.’
Zahavi, who co-wrote the script with Winner, agrees, but on a more personal note. ‘Like 99 per cent of women, all through my life I’ve had a random assortment of experiences where I’ve felt threatened and vulnerable and extremely anxious,’ she says. ‘These were brought to a head in Brighton when l was being spied on by a neighbour. One day, I woke up and realised I wanted to kill this man, and it was perhaps the most invigorating experience of my life. It was also a great shock to me, because I’d been brought up in a very liberal background with fairly progressive views. and the wish to kill anyone was deeply disturbing. But once I had the feeling, I began to write down exactly what I wanted to do. and that in itself was cathartic. So I carried on and developed the character Bella, and suddenly I was able to think the unthinkable — all the things that women would not dare even dream of doing, this fictional woman was doing on paper. I was able to let the female id run riot through the streets of Brighton.’
The resulting book was generally well received — it is now taught on modern literature courses at four UK universities — widening its appeal from a core feminist audience to readers, both male and female, who recognised in the murderous Bella an overblown, mythical figure putting to right centuries of persecution in one weekend. A
darkly comic seaside romp, it left in its bloody trail the corpses of would-be seducers, rapists and killers. This was not reality; this was wish- fulfilment taken to ludicrous extremes.
And it has to be said that, after an excruciatingly bad ‘realistic’ opening set-up, Winner’s film taps into the very stuff that Zahavi’s novel thrives on. In the lead role, Lia Williams excels as the downtrodden woman who is magically liberated when she disposes of her Peeping Tom, obscene phonecalling neighbour with a hammer - DIY, vigilante style. Then she’s off on a killing spree,
gleefully shooting, stabbing and suffocating her
way into the history books. Of course, the graphic nature of some of the images will repel many, although in the ﬁlm’s overall context, they are far from exploitative. Zahavi, for one, is convinced that the violence is less graphic in the ﬁlm than in her original novel. ‘There’s a difference in what you can show on a screen and what you can depict in a book.’ she argues. ‘Fiction is based on the imagination, while on
the screen you’re actually showing something .‘
‘You can’t only make films about nice people doing nice things.’ adds Winner, warming to his favourite theme. ‘This was written out of a very great belief that . . . women are continually subject to abuse of all kinds, and that Bella was the avenging angel for all insults to all women. And, of course, as an avenging angel, the insults are graphically shown. However unpleasant the attacks on Bella are, they are something that goes on all over the world every day and every night. Historically, throughout drama, you always exaggerate the villainy and overpunish the villains. I accept that in Dirty Weekend the villainy was overpunished. What I think this film says is that if you persecute any group long