A soldier’s story
Trainspotting’s Jonny Lee Miller and Scottish film director Gillies Mackinnon are teaming up to re- create acclaimed novelist Pat Barker’s portrait of the First World War. Fiona Shepherd braves the set of Regeneration.
think you should see this,’ says director
Gillies Mackinnon, opening the door of the
closet in his trailer. ‘This might give you
more of an idea of what I’m talking about.’
Director of Scottish hit movie Small Faces,
Mackinnon is talking about what his crew have alleged is the most challenging and difﬁcult location they’ve ever worked on.
The ﬁlming of Allan Scott’s adaptation of Pat Barker’s First World War novel Regeneration began in the crisp ﬁrst week of November with the shooting of the trench warfare footage, when the wilds of Airdrie stood in for Flanders. Now back in the relative civilisation of Glasgow’s East End, Mackinnon offers up as a visual aid lumps of mud shaped oddly like an overcoat and a pair of boots.
‘We were drenched to the skin in freezing rain,’ he says. ‘Every step you took your boots were sucked into the mud, people getting stuck all the time, freezing wind and snow from daybreak till midnight, but I just kept thinking, “this is trivial compared to what those guys went through — no one trying to kill you and you can go home.” ’
The scenes at the Front are screenplay additions to Barker’s original tale which takes as its inspiration war poet Siegfried Sassoon’s time at Craiglockhart Hospital in 1917 and the work of army psychologist Dr Rivers, counselling soldiers who had been mentally, physically and above all emotionally shattered by their experiences on the Continent.
Rivers is the story’s pivotal character. His humane remedial measures are contrasted with those of another doctor whose use of electric shock therapy certainly yields results but at a traumatic price. Ironically, it is Rivers who ﬁnds himself close to breakdown as a result of his work, although Jonathan Pryce, on his first day’s ﬁlming, gets a gentle start, simply walking up a hill towards the hospital.
His patients include Billy Prior (Barker’s ﬁctional creation), played by Jonny Lee Miller, who has still not tired of being referred to as 'Sickboy out of Trainspotting’, and Siegfried Sassoon, played ‘like a lanky aristocrat’ by
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James Wilby (best known for his Merchant Ivory roles in Howard’s End and Maurice). Sassoon's friendship with fellow war poet Wilfred Owen is also explored. Spookin enough, ﬁlming started on the anniversary of Owen’s death. However, it was Armistice Day which brought things home to cast and crew.
‘We had a three minute silence on set on the llth hour of the llth day.’ says Miller. ‘We actually did the silence at the right time and l was standing in uniform in a trench — it was very humbling.’
Earlier Miller had been spotted sporting his poppy but now he is clad in full ofﬁcer’s regalia ready for a love scene with Canadian actress Tanya Allen, to be ﬁlmed in Glasgow Cathedral. It’s his ﬁrst time playing a man in uniform
‘We had a three minute silence on set on the 11th hour of the 11th day. We actually did the silence at the right time and I was standing In unitorrn In a trench - It was very humbling.’
Jonny Lee Miller
In the trenches: director Gillies Mackinnon (left) and actor Jonny Lee Miller on location tor Regeneration
J ONNY LEE MILLER FEATURE
‘except for prison uniform — I’ve done a couple of them’, and he speaks ﬂuently about his character.
‘Prior is working class, a man who’s worked his way up to second lieutenant, so he’s like a ﬁsh out of water in the war. Most other ofﬁcers were middle or upper class. Basically he’s got a bad attitude. He’s an angry young man who antagonises the doctor more. The other characters antagonise just through their circumstances and illnesses, but Billy doesn’t like doctors - they weren’t there on the front line. He has no respect for people like that, he hates civilians. But his main thing is that he’s really bugged about the fact that he broke down. He thinks he’s useless because of that and he’s desperate to go back and prove himself a man.’
Miller relishes the development of his role which will require him to play mute for some of the time.
‘The breakdowns were usually a case of erosion and build-up,’ he says, ‘but all the soldiers tended to put it down to one event and they’re confused that this one little thing was what fucked them up. With Prior, it’s that he’s having a cup of tea with two of his men, then he goes off for a pee and there’s a huge explosion. He has to clean up the mess and he ﬁnds this guy’s eye. There’s guys freaking out and he just can’t say anything to them. He’s calm but he just can’t talk, he’s numb.’
Regeneration will have its own clear message about war in general. For Mackinnon there are his memories of the stories he heard as a teenager from war veterans.
‘That whole generation was almost totally
deﬁned by the experience of that war,’ he says. ‘Also, it’s almost the new millennium and in the culture we’re living in today, the First World War will begin to feel a very long time ago. It’s an important thing for me to make a connection with that war.’ Regeneration will hit the ﬁlm festival circuit in 1997. It has been ﬁrnded by Canadian production company Norstar, the Glasgow Film Fund, BBC Films and the National Lottery through the Scottish Arts Council.
The List 29 Nov-12 Dec 1996 11