ama— Horse’s tale

Screenwriter-turned- director Caroline Thomson tells Gill Roth about her new version of children’s favourite Black Beauty.

The story of Black Beauty has timeless classic stamped all over it. Since its publication in 1877. Anna Sewell’s novel has been adored by generations of obsessive pie-pubescent girls who spend all their free time mucking out stables and fantasising about winning the local gymkhana. But according to Caroline Thomson. writer and director ofthe latest film version. you don't have to be the horsey type to get a kick out ofthe film. ‘Black Beauty is about what it's like to be alive. We don't choose our parents and a horse can‘t choose its owner. I have deep sympathy for animals and children because they're totally at the mercy of adults.‘

Thomson’s film is beautiful to look at and moves along at a cracking pace while maintaining the emotional charge of the book. The lush. green meadows of Berkshire. a couple ofstately homes landscaped by Capability Brown. and the Blue Bell Railway in Sussex provide somejuicy locations and stunning natural backdrops.

While previous film versions focused more on the human characters. Thomson stays faithful to the original

marm— Blood wedding

To opera aficionados, the name of Frenchman Patrice Chereau stands like a colossus over the director-led developments in production styles that have spread their sway from Europe outwards since the 703. He it was, for instance, who created the 1976 centenary staging of Wagner’s Ring cycle at Bayreuth, radically recasting the mythological saga in terms of the industrial revolution and the corruption of high capitalism. Ile it was who directed the famous completed premiere of Alban Berg’s lulu, and whose work with Ilanterre’s Theatre des Amandiers carries a similar cachet among students of recent European theatre. As an actor, he’s been seen in both Andrzei Walda’s Danton and Michael Mann’s The Last Of The Mohicans (as the French garrison commander). Culturally, then, he is very much ‘un grand fromage’, which should leave us in no way surprised that he’s now taken to the cinema in a big way with the full- blooded 16th century epic La Reina Margot, a turbulent account of romantic obsession, religious bigotry and dynastic decay.

Here the extraordinary presence of

. by telling the story through the eyes of the horse itself. ‘The powers that be wanted more of a human angle. but I refused.‘ she explains. ‘The frontispiece of the first edition says

“Black Beauty and his friends. translated from the equine" and that‘s the way i wanted it.’ At first a talking

: horse seems weird until you remember that every little kid on the planet sees the world through the eyes of their pet dog or cat. and even the most uptight adults talk to animals when nobody‘s watching. Although the humans are

totally upstaged by the equine stars. the

all-British cast includes Sean Bean.

David Thewlis. Peter Cook and Eleanor

Bron. Alan Cumming is the voice behind the horse because. says Thomson. ‘he has a youthful

Black Beauty: “faithful to the original'

fit with my idea of the character of the animal.‘

‘Kids are a great audience because they’re so honest. I’m drawn to them because they make the most wacko connections, it’s like they’re on acid all the time.’

Black Beauty's experiences of good times and bad. gentle owners and cruel. friends and enemies. in his search for a l safe place where He’ll be treated with E kindness is something that should strike I a chord with the most obnoxious of l brats even if their knowledge of horses begins and ends with My Little Pony.

, exuberance. energy and enthusiasm that , The film deals with the fundamentaI

I t

9 regal Isabelle Adiani in the title role

vies for attention with the massed

i atrocities of the notorious St

a Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, a

l showstopping turn from veteran Italian

| actress Virna Lisi as the wicked

l matriarch Catherine of Medici, Daniel

E Auteuil being dimly rustic but a good

i egg, Jean Hughes-Anglade hamming

i away as only he can in a prolonged

.- death scene that sees him bleeding

; through his very pores, and - just to

3 add to the frolics - one of world

I cinema’s classiest dog autopsy sequences. All in all, it’s pretty much

the complete historical barnstonner,

entertainineg heavy on the sex,

? carnage and intrigue, with a

substantial side order of subtext and

t’ I,

La Reine Margot: ‘fuII-blooded 16th century epic’

modern day relevance. A terrific movie that just happens to have subtitles and an extremely intellectual French director who’s plainly bored with the process of promoting a film he has spent four years of his life bringing to fruition.

Moments after he’s given the Callic death stare to an unfortunate hotel minion who chose the wrong room and the wrong time for a spot of flower arranging, Monsieur Chereau is shifting in his chair and explaining his commitment to a project that has taken up a considerable tranche of his precious time. ‘Of course,’ he shrugs, ‘it’s a way of showing today’s history through the reflection of the Renaissance. I wanted to explore an

issues of loneliness. abandonment. and the best and worst aspects of human nature.‘ asserts Thomson. ‘Life is a journey and the people who are with you at the start aren't necessarily going to be there at the end. These are the harsh realities and it‘s about how you cope with them.’

Although this is Thomson‘s directorial debut her track record as a screenwriter is impressive. Edward Scissorhands, The Adams F amil y. The Secret Garden and Tim Burton is The Nightmare Before Christmas are all suffused with an acute sensitivity and awareness of what turns a child on. 'Kids are a great audience because they're so honest. l’m drawn to them because they make the most wacko connections. it’s like they're on acid all the time. I'm very aware of their vulnerability but you only have to read Peter Pan or Lord Of The Flies for a wonderful exploration of their cruelty. Kids are the clearest expression of humans because they embody what's most beautiful and what’s most frightening.’

Like The Secret Garden and Edward SClS‘S‘OI’hlIIldS, the story of Black Beauty attracted Thomson because it portrays a deep affinity and empathy for the predicament of outsiders. ‘They're similar in that they’re the kind of stories I love. about someone who wants in.‘ she says. ‘All children are outsiders because the world is really constructed for adults. Everything is in disproportion. it doesn't make any sense and nobody offers an explanation. To me, that’s what every child must feel and that's where I'm coming from.‘

Black Beauty opens in Scotland on Fri 1 7.

extraordinary time in the past that Is also our time today, where wars of religion can still exist In the heart of Europe, where barbarism can still flourish amid so-called civilisation. I wanted also to show France her own history because it’s still a very Catholic society and it’s important to look within yourself to understand where that identity comes from. If there’s a rift between the Catholics and Protestants today, It could certainly have been worse, because virtually all the Protestants have been killed.

‘The one thing I didn’t want to do is create the usual period reconstruction. In all of my work I’m not interested in looking backwards, I’m always trying to find a way to develop a new way of communicating. In this instance, I wanted to speak in the language of Coppola and Scorsese, to have the mobility of their cinema, and for me that meant cutting away any moment of superfluous historical reconstruction. We built sets, yes, but there are no scenes where the camera pans along a whole line of extras lost so you can see they are there and that we’ve made authentic costumes for them. Why should you put something in a period film that you wouldn’t put in a contemporary film? I wasn’t interested in shooting palntlngs.’ (Trevor Johnston)

La lleine Margot opens at the Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh Fllnrhoase on Fri 10.

20 The List 10-23 Feb 1995