Simon Donald Writer of My Life So Far
If you want to get Simon Donald's goat just go up to him and say, 'Didn't you used to be a playwright?’ I’ve tried it and it needles him. So I say it a lot.
He did indeed used to be a playwright. Rather a good one. He hit his peak with The Life Of Stuff, a scabrous comedy about scabs both human and fleshy, at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre in 1992. He was also an actor with the same theatre and cropped up in the occasional TV drama.
But in recent years, the Leith- based Donald has branched out as a scriptwriter for television and film. He had a crack at a Dr Finlay, wrote Deacon Brodie, the Billy Connolly star vehicle, and a handful of other single dramas. He'd rather we all forgot about his debut as a film director. The much maligned screen version of The Life Of Stuff barely got a cinematic release.
’It didn’t make the jump from stage to screen,‘ he admits. 'Anyone who’s seen Life Of Stuff will never let me direct again. Luckily no one's seen it. As long as they don't put it out on telly, I’m safe.’
While he was shooting that film, director Hugh Hudson was on location at Loch Fyne, teaming up with producer David Puttnam on My Life So Far, scripted by Donald after the autobiography of Sir Denis Forman. It's a pre-war nostalgia-fest in which a middle-aged Colin Firth falls for an exotic Irene Jacob, bride-
to-be of an elderly Malcolm McDowell, all watched over
by a ten-year-old boy.
For now, Donald's attentions are on his next film, Dangerous Creatures, a black comedy about two young women (Rachel Weiss and Susan Lynch) coping with the corpse of one of their boyfriends. Donald is both writer and co-producer on the film, which is nearing completion under the steady guidance of Duncan Four
(15) 150 mins tan:
AD, 180. Rome’s greatest general, MaXimus (Russell Crowe), leads his army against the Germanic barbarian hordes in the final battle of the twenty-year campaign that has seen the empire expand throughout Europe and Africa. Followmg the final victory, reigning Caesar, Aurelius (Richard Harris), dies shortly after charging Maximus with the duty of cleaning up his beloved, but politically corrupt Rome. Aurelius’ son, Commodus (Joaqurn Phoenix) doesn't take kindly to this and orders his rival and his Spanish family to be executed.
‘It has the black comedy of Life Of Stu
ff, but it doesn't have the baroque language’
Simon Donald on his next film, Dangerous Creatures
Weddings Kenworthy and Andrew Trainspotting
Macdonald. 'It has the black comedy of Life Of Stuff, but
The action scenes are superbly staged, but the political intrigue fails to hold the attention
But Maximus survives and works his way back to Rome intent on revenge as one of businessman Proximo’s (Oliver Reed in his final role) top gladiators.
Pivotal to this narrative is the idea that the lethal games held in ancient Rome’s gigantic Colosseum were the epicentre of every stratum of crty life. To the general public the games were unbridled entertainment; to Rome's ruling elite they were a way of placating the oppressed masses. It’s this relationship between emperor and subjects that forces Commodus to keep Maximus alive, or at least prowde him with a fighting chance in the arena.
It’s an interesting idea, but it plays
it doesn’t have the baroque language,’ says Donald. ’The men are misogynistic gits. The fun of it was writing something where the girls are almost invisible because the men would never credit them with anything.’
I My Life So Far opens Fri 72 May. See review
second fiddle to a more ti‘adit:onal theme: the father-son relationship i‘i"'(l Sibling rivalry. The trouble is it's a?! a ix: obvrous; the audience is likely to be one step ahead of the film throughout Commodus’ tyranny plates hint w: conflict With Rome's senate, and here Gladiator really lags, pomting up the film's shortcoming. The action scenes are superbly staged particularly MaXImus' combat With a giant veteran gladiator while dodging the ciaxss of tigers loose in the Colosseum but the political intrigue and personal dramas fail to hold the attention.
Crowe displays physical pi'oxixess and grim determination as the \\"ill'l'l()l’ who takes no pleasure in blood sports, while Phoenix radiates eViI, and even manages to garner a degree of sympathy as the spoilt brat emperor. Connie Nielsen is wasted as Commodus' but there's a jtlle cameo from Derek /, Claudius Jacobi as the emperor's enemy in the senate. Of course, parallels must be drawn With Spartacus and Ben lftl' (we've not seen a Roman epic in a long time). Director Ridley Scott's :s a handsome spectacle and em lit-"t; enough, but that’s all it is (Miles Fielder)
I General release from I‘ll I) May
GaVin Lambert’s Mainly About Lindsay Anderson: A Memoir (Faber £18 99 *ttt) does something decidedly dodgy: it uses Anderson’s very private diary to offer up details that might otherwrse have forever tertiained unknown. But Lambert, a friend of Anderson's since they were at school together, uses the diary guite l)(-‘c'itltllt_llly, opening up the interior life of this most emotionally reserved English director of If. . . and 0 [dc ky Man/, and thus helps us understand the contradictory elements of Anderson's work. The notion, for example, that though Anderson’s first feature about a professional rugby player in the north of fp'igiand, lit/Is Sporting Life, was ostensibly the toughest of all Kitchen Sink cii‘amas, it turned into the most poetic, throughout the shoot Ancletson was himself in love with leading man Richard Harris. Not that larn‘oeit reduces the director's work to so blunt a cause and effect, but he does at least filter it through the
psvc lto-sexual elements that help make sense of a difficult director's
\-\i’hat would DaVid Mamet's secret diary rude? Or maybe With Mamet what you see is what you get, and ‘.'.'hat you get is Mamet's terse atetiide to life. In his latest collection o‘ essays, Jafsie And John Henry laoer £9 99 *‘kl he tells us, yet again, that ‘character is nothing other trait ac tion’ and that ’character clriven’ means 'the plot stinks'. He also u'isists that the ’use of the compute", stocked wrth forms of self- coi‘rec lill(l as to spelling and grammar, makes us illiterate'. And there you have it.
As thoughtful as Mamet’s is knee— ,erk, Gilberto Perez’s book, The Material Ghost: Films And Their Medium (John Hopkins University Press [25 *****) ranks with the finest cinematic writing anywhere. Ranging over the work of Renoir, Godard, scorsese, Kiarostami and Antonioni, Perez formulates a few ideas of his own, and carefully takes anai't theories held by other far "nigger" l)th less original practitioners lit the field. This really is an accessible toy. ll'ony Mc‘Krbbin)
1 ;- _ .ll.‘:»c>‘.: L INDSAY ANDERS. ’
33 lfllsfuﬂ) .. 1
ll 2s May 2000 THE LIST 29