Monday, 26 October 2009

The Scouting Book for Boys (London Film Festival)

Well, our London Film Festival experience didn't get off to the most auspicious of starts, when our priority booking form got lost in the post. Fortunately, we sprang into action before everything had sold out, and got what must have been the last two seats for this screening.

The Scouting Book for Boys is the debut feature from director Tom Harper, from a script by Jack Thorne – a playwright who's also written for Shameless and – more extensively – Skins.

It's set around a caravan park on the Norfolk coast, where teenagers David (Thomas Turgoose) and Emily (Holliday Grainger) are inseparable best friends; they live permanently on the site, where their parents work. However, their carefree lifestyle comes to a halt when Emily disappears, shortly after being told that she'll have to go and live with her absentee dad.

It'd be criminal to give away too much of what happens next, but things get progressively darker, culminating in a devastating conclusion. However, the storytelling is sparse and subtle throughout, meaning that when a fairly nasty moment came along, it provoked a audible response from just about everyone in the cinema.

In screenwriting terms, the characterisation of the hesitant and slightly dim David and the much more precocious Emily is brilliantly laid out, helped by compelling performances from the two leads - especially Thomas Turgoose, whose expressive face and body language articulate what his tongue-tied character can't.

The film is also beautifully shot. The optimistic early part of the film is bathed in glorious golden sunlight, while the later scenes are marked by a much bleaker atmosphere - a great example of using mise-en-scene to reflect characters' psychological states.

I read somewhere that it's going to be released in the UK next spring, but you can probably catch details of further preview screenings via the film's twitter feed - @SB4B.

There was a short Q&A after the screening. Jack Thorne said the idea came about when he read that Robbie Williams' dad used to be an entertainer at a caravan park. He used to go on family holidays to caravan parks and had often wondered about the people who lived there permanently.

The script spent about seven years in gestation, but he really started to develop it under a mentoring scheme by Celador Films. His first draft led to Tom Harper and Film4 becoming involved, but then a second draft went badly wrong and the project went backwards.

However, after Jack was told by the producer to go away and write whatever he wanted, the script popped up in second place on the inaugural Brit List (an industry survey of hot unproduced screenplays) - behind The Men Who Stare at Goats. That generated more interest and led to another draft.

Tom Harper added that he'd previously read a couple of Jack's scripts and was keen to work with him. It was a coincidence that the Scouting Book script ended up in his hands, but he loved it when he read it and the project moved on from there.

There was also a brief discussion of the portrayal of adults in the film. Tom Parker said that the script is mostly from David's point of view, so he wanted to represent that in a heightened reality on screen - something worth thinking about when you're considering the POV you want to present in your own scripts.

The adults seem on a slightly different plane to David and Emily; they're a bit crap and peripheral, so the teens have to occupy themselves and make their own fun. So, the world originally seems idyllic through David's eyes, until things start to go wrong (reflected in the change of tone noted above) .

The cast paid tribute to the precision and timing of Jack's script, but the writer himself admitted that the story changed quite a bit in the edit. His original ending came earlier than the conclusion seen in the film and was more ambiguous, but didn't feel right on screen.

LFF blurb, including pics and trailer
Video interview with Tom Harper (Cineuropa)
Tom Harper's filming diary (Film4)
Old-ish interview with Jack Thorne (BBC writersroom)

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