CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON FEATURE
After the success of Shallow Grave and Cracker; actor Christopher Eccleston is grappling with Thomas Hardy on the streets of Edinburgh. Alan Morrison meets him on the set of Jude.
ast time he set foot in Scotland. he was
chopping up bodies and terrorising his
Shallow Grave flatmates over a huge
stash of banknotcs. Christopher
Eccleston’s most recent visit has a
more genteel — if still as troubled — dimension.
As the lead in Jude. a £4 million adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s last and most controversial novel Jude The Obscure. he plays a young working-class man desperately in love with his intelligent. urbane cousin Sue. whom society and past events conspire to keep from him.
‘When I heard we were coming here again — and this isn’t bullshit — l was genuinely pleased. because I feel very much at home here.’ says the Manchester—born actor about his return to Scotland. Before I did Shallow Grave. I came up fora week to Edinburgh myself. met a couple of chartered accountants and stayed in the hotel near the Zoo. just doing a bit of research. taping the accent. getting a feel for the city. It was only the second time l’d been to Edinburgh — the first time being when l fitted up a show for the Royal Exchange when l was on the crew there.’
The Scottish capital has. for two weeks, been standing in for Oxford —— Christminster in Hardy’s fictionalised Wessex — the idealised city of learning that draws Jude from his country roots. George Heriot’s school. Greyfriars Kirkyard and parts of the New Town have
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served as locations for the film, with the Royal Mile shut off for one weekend for a university procession that used 500 extras.
The scene being shot on this rather chilly Saturday morning, however. is a moment of brightness breaking through Hardy‘s embittered cloud: Jude has caught an early glimpse of Sue. but hasn’t spoken to her yet. A few yards down from the Lawnmarket. just up the hill from the Grassmarket. 160 extras are milling about the pens of a docile but smelly collection of livestock. A horse-drawn carriage clatters on the cobblestones and a ragged group of street urchins throw cabbage leaves at each other. The Victorian countryside has come to town.
The main action is flanked by the long- standing stone facades ofcouncil buildings. law courts and St Giles’ Cathedral. although a little cosmetic surgery has been done to the nearest shop fronts —— it’s unlikely that a malt whisky specialist and a Scottish woollen mill featured much in Thomasllardy‘s fictionalised world. Into the bustle of Parliament Square strides a beautiful young woman, her fine ivory dress
‘A few yards down from the Lawnmarket, just up the hill from the Grassmarket, 160 extras are milling about the pens of a docile but smelly collection of livestock.’
Christopher Eccleston: ln Channel 4’: Hearts and Mlnds
setting her apart from those around her. Behind her sweeps a Steadicam, watched over by director Michael Winterbottom, followed by a dozen continuity, script and production assistants. their walkie-talkies and headphones interrupting the period atmosphere.
On the first take. Eccleston also follows the path of the Steadicam. its eye tracking Sue as keenly as Jude’s. For subsequent takes, only
actress Kate Winslet — Juliet in Heavenly C rcaturcs — is required. A scattering of gravel covers the ground behind St Giles’,
simultaneously providing a nice crunchy soundtrack and hiding the painted lines that mark out parking spaces. The first assistant director calls for ‘background action’, and about twenty male students — high collars, old-fashioned mortarboard hats and serious expressions — wander about the courtyard.
‘Edinburgh has the right feel because it’s lived in.” observes Eccleston. ‘lt’s not picture-book, and that‘s something that we’ve tried to avoid in all areas of the film.’
After Edinburgh, the shoot moves on to various other locations. including London, Northumberland and New Zealand, before wrapping in mid-December. Film distributor PolyGram is planning a cinema release late in 1996. when the world will discover if Jude can stir up half the controversy that greeted Hardy’s original novel exactly a century ago.
Stepping out: Chrletopher Eccleston and Kate Wlnslet wander through Edinburgh's trenetomee Perlleleeet Sqeere
The List 3-l6 Nov l99517