Danny, Sally and the Unsung Secret of Our Screen Success; Springboard: Slumdog Millionaire Director Danny Boyle Learned His Craft in the Theatre, like Many Other Brits Working in Film

The Evening Standard (London, England), January 13, 2009 | Go to article overview

Danny, Sally and the Unsung Secret of Our Screen Success; Springboard: Slumdog Millionaire Director Danny Boyle Learned His Craft in the Theatre, like Many Other Brits Working in Film


Byline: NICK CURTIS

TODAY we publish our shortlist of nominees for this year's Evening Standard Film Awards, and it makes gratifying reading. This roster of talent, coming straight after the huge British success at the Golden Globes, proves it is a rich time for homegrown films, while our artists remain in demand in Hollywood.

Most of the Brits working in film, from Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle to the award-winning star of The Reader, Kate Winslet, learned their craft in the finishing school of British theatre.

All of them even Steve McQueen, the director of Hunger, whose background is in fine art benefit from the theatrical traditions of acting and storytelling that feed directly into the cinema.

The British theatre is the great unsung success story of British film. I have reviewed film and theatre for the past 20 years and this is the link that always strikes me as the least well celebrated but vital to our success in the arts.

Casting director Ros Hubbard told me that American studios favour British actors, especially in character-based or villainous roles, because they are "properly trained", even if their teeth and looks aren't quite up to Cruise/ Jolie standards. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Samuel L Jackson have separately enthused about the superior technique and range of British stage actors compared to one-trick Americans who started out in TV or film.

And it's not just actors. Stephen Daldry got to direct Billy Elliot the movie and later The Hours and The Reader off the back of the international success of his staging of An Inspector Calls and Machinal. He honed his ability to tell a story at the Gate and Royal Court theatres.

Although writer Peter Morgan began his career scripting training films and polishing Hollywood dross such as King Ralph, his greatest cinematic success, Frost/Nixon, began life as a play at the Donmar Warehouse.

Similarly, the lively star of Happy-Go- Lucky, Sally Hawkins, now with her own Golden Globe on the mantelpiece, graduated from RADA in 1998 and had a burgeoning stage career before she began her regular collaborations with Mike Leigh. Danny Boyle first made his name at the Royal Court.

Martin McDonagh was a feted playwright before directing the Oscar-winning short Six Shooter in 2004 and the hilarious In Bruges in 2008.

Theatre is where British artists test and train and improve themselves. It's where Leigh first developed the improvisation techniques he carried over with such success into film. It's where the film world found such effective adapters and script-doctors as Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard.

Granted, what film has is grandeur and a far greater reach, but it is interesting how many of those who succeed in it still hanker for their roots in theatre.

Lee Hall, who wrote Billy Elliot, has now returned to the stage, with The Pitmen Painters at the National, after seven years of having film scripts misunderstood, bowdlerised or simply ignored by producers. …

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