Michael Winterbottom: ‘We are so lucky to have Kenneth Branagh – I hope that Boris Johnson is flattered’

This England, a new TV series tracking the first three months of the pandemic, was originally scheduled to air on September 21. However, on the eighth of that month, something else made sense. history happened: Queen Elizabeth II passed away. The show’s release was pushed back a week in the maelstrom after that.

Performer Michael Winterbottom doesn’t think the monarch’s death will radically change how viewers react to the film, but the change “is clearly a big moment, after 70 years as a head of state. family”.

He reminded us that she was also prominent during the first wave of the pandemic, making “an important speech where shared values ​​and positive aspects of the monarchy was featured; it’s the idea of ​​a nation coming together.”

This England covers the tumultuous, tumultuous journey from the unshakable spread of Covid abroad and into the UK to a late winter of discontent: lockdowns, deaths in care homes , PPE shortage. The six-part series revolves around prime minister Boris Johnson (played by Kenneth Branagh in a heavy prosthetic) and his cabinet grappling with an unprecedented situation, with victims, families, medical staff, scientific advisors and factory workers for masks and gowns.

A well-researched “fictional” of real events, This England is a complex and detailed maze – though never difficult to understand.

“For our research, we talked to a lot of different people, with different experiences,” says Winterbottom. “And we had a timeline going from the beginning to the end of that first wave in a linear way. Everything changes so fast. Something done on March 5th may not make sense a day later, so you have to be very clear when this happens, not just what is happening – to understand how the virus is changing. and how the response to it develops. “

With push beats, fast cuts, and a pulsating electronic soundtrack, This England doesn’t feel a million miles away from the Jason Bourne movies. The sense of speed is important, Winterbottom adds.

“People know so little about the virus, they’re trying to quickly figure out how to fight it or make a vaccine, prepare it for hospitals, etc,” he said. “The only way to get a feel for how quickly it went viral, and how people reacted, was to keep our series going at the same pace.”


Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Photo by Tristan Few / Getty Images

He co-wrote and co-directed, cast, and edited. “I’d probably prefer – although that’s the term I hate – a ‘showrunner’ rather than a director,” he said.

The script is partly based on actual, albeit fictitious, testimony about government meetings and the stories of individuals, with a mix of professional actors and versions of those playing the roles. themselves.

“One of the care homes, kindly allowed us to film there; the care staff are real people. They’re re-enacting what happened to them last year: going in, staying with residents, etc. It’s a privilege for us to be able to put it on film.”

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At the center of it all is Branagh, capturing with cartoonish growls, gorilla pose and scarecrow hair, Boris’s essence in all its eccentricity, stubbornness and in some strange way is friendliness. Certainly the former Prime Minister is far superior to many others, especially Dominic Cummings. Did Winterbottom know he wanted Sir Ken to be Boris in the first place?

“Yes, once we finished the script, we went to see him pretty much right away,” he said. “It’s hard to think of who would be a good Boris Johnson, because he’s a pretty ‘big’ performer himself. We have a special, powerful image of him. So lucky to have someone like Ken. I hope Boris is flattered.

“He writes a lot about himself, so you can get an idea of ​​how he might picture himself. We tried to draw that out and make him as round as possible. And obviously Ken is a great actor; he makes Boris very interesting. “

In 2020, Winterbottom contributed to C-19, a collection of Italian short films from different directors across Europe about Covid or lockdown. It is “fictional, but based on fact”, like many of his works: from 1997 Welcome to Sarajevothrough People who attend the party in 24 hours, In this world, the way to Guantanamo and Mighty heart (starring Angelina Jolie). There’s also a candid documentary – The Doctrine of Shock, The Emperor’s New Clothes – while On the road with wolf Alice kind of mix of both.

“I don’t know why I get so inspired by real life,” he said. “It’s not an aesthetic or ideological choice, it’s just about participating in things that are happening in the world that are interesting or that interest me. It’s like a productive place to start.”

Born in Blackburn in 1961, Winterbottom studied English at Oxford and acted in films in Bristol, and has written and directed regularly since his twenties. Early works include a documentary about Ingmar Bergman and the first episodes of Robbie Coltrane’s hit TV series. Cracker. A big breakthrough comes Familyhit 1994 drama RTÉ/BBC written by Roddy Doyle.

“I directed all four episodes,” he said, “and it was definitely the biggest thing and the longest shot I had completed up to that point. We had a great cast and clearly Roddy was a great writer. We were in Dublin for three or four months – it was so much fun. “

Winterbottom makes an amazing income – making “an average movie a year” – but he insists that he “didn’t really work that hard”: the kind of movies he makes are “fairly low-budget”. ” with a typically six to eight weekly shoot.

He often works with the same people – Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Shirley Henderson, John Simm – creating the kind of esprit de Corps commonly found in theater companies.

Bergman, the legendary Swedish director, was the inspiration: “He made things like 50 films; some summer he will shoot two. Then, all winter, he ran the grand theater in Sweden and directed plays. So movies are like a side hobby, but he’s made dozens. He’s got a bunch of people he’s always working with, so get rid of a lot of hanging around and waiting, trying to convince an actor or financier. He can focus on making movies.

“I always found that way of doing things would be perfect. We haven’t been able to achieve that exactly yet, but it’s ideal. We have this kind of small company, so give us a little space. Obviously it’s easier to work with people you know.”

He also enjoys improvisation, considered to be the best effect (and most comics) in Coogan and Brydon. The trip to… movie series. “I love it,” he says, “whether it’s Steve and Rob fooling around, or more of an actor living in a character. This England there’s some of that, like in hospitals where we have nurses and doctors who actually play themselves. The stuff in government is less, since it’s based on notes from meetings or whatever – that’s more scripted, although we still have to invent some stuff. “

The original title, incidentally, is This Sceptred Isle. It wasn’t Winterbottom’s decision, he said, to change it to This Englandthough both come from the same speech in Shakespeare’s Richard II.

“It’s the idea of ​​a separate island nation, while the pandemic shows us that we are not separate. Also, the idea that without man is an island, while here we are all isolated – in our homes – but still sharing the same experience. “

‘This England’ airs on Sky Atlantic and streaming service Now on September 28

https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/michael-winterbottom-we-were-lucky-to-get-kenneth-branagh-i-hope-that-boris-johnson-is-flattered-42009765.html Michael Winterbottom: ‘We are so lucky to have Kenneth Branagh – I hope that Boris Johnson is flattered’

Fry Electronics Team

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