Having conquered the literary world with prize- winning novels including A Good Man In Africa and made his mark in cinema with screenplays such as Chaplin, WILLIAM BOYD swaps quill for viewfinder to direct The Trench.
Words: Davie Archibald
You’re clutching your rifle. Waiting to go over the top. You don’t know what to expect. How could you? It’s 1916. You're seventeen - a fresh-faced
'Now we're more cynical, less trusting . . . because of what was
destroyed in World War I -
innocence and trust.’ William Boyd
recruit. All you know is propaganda: ’Bosch eat babies for breakfast!’ So you’re here, in some unknown French valley called The Somme. Within 24 hours, 60,000 people will lie dead around you. A rude awakening to the
reality of war.
This is the backdrop to The Trench, a film that traces two days in the lives of British volunteers awaiting the bloody battle. It marks the directing debut of Scottish novelist William Boyd who believes that World War I represents a watershed in history. ’That was the end of the 19th century,‘ he states, 'the 20th century began some time in 1914-1918.’ Boyd suggests that the War resulted in widespread psychological changes: ’I think people were different then. Now we’re more cynical, less trusting. Why? You could argue that it's because of what was destroyed in World War I - innocence and trust.’
Having written two wartime novels, Boyd regarded it as ideal subject matter for his debut feature. And he readily admits to his cinematic influence: ’l was watching Das Boot and saw the world of the U-boat. That's how you do it without $50m. Keep it close, keep it claustrophobic.‘ Boyd substitutes the U-boat for the battle-front, but strives for a similar effect exploring the group dynamic of those facing imminent danger.
Words are precious to any novelist, but Boyd allowed a certain amount of leeway in production. After casting two young Scots actors — Michael Moreland and Anthony Strachan — he
altered aspects of the dialogue. ’We‘
sat down and ’Scotticised’ the script so that they felt comfortable.’ Similarly, some of the action scenes were improvised, thus allowing greater cast input. But you can only go so far when dealing with historical subject matter. Boyd highlights the occasion when one actor shouted, 'you dickhead, you dickhead’, before he calmly pointed out: ’You can’t say that, it’s 1916!’ Boyd has used his literary success to enter the world of cinema, but he's keen to outline his priorities. 'l’m a novelist first and foremost, but I hoped my novel writing would open that
Bunkerman: William Boyd on the set of The Trench
charmed door to the film world.’ Indeed his involvement with cinema spans almost two decades. ’I was initially a screenwriter, but I became more involved in production,’ he states. ’Suddenly the directing option became available and I was very keen to do it.‘ The Trench may be Boyd's directing debut, but if it’s half as successful as his writing career, it won't be the last time you hear about him.
The Trench opens Fri 17 Sep. See review.
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9—23 Sep 1999 THE LIST 17