Magazine article Screen International

Duncan Kenworthy Talks His Under-the-Radar Strategy for 'The Pass'

Magazine article Screen International

Duncan Kenworthy Talks His Under-the-Radar Strategy for 'The Pass'

Article excerpt

Last night (Mar 16), The Pass opened the 30th edition of the BFI's long-running LGBT film festival - now called Flare - at the Odeon Leicester Square.

As well as being the first Flare opener to premiere at Odeon's flagship cinema in 10 years, it also marked a return for Duncan Kenworthy, producer of Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually and The Eagle among others, who has premiered four films at the venue.

For Kenworthy, opening BFI Flare with The Pass was an optimal result for a film he self-funded and produced entirely under the radar, with the understanding that if it wasn't a creative success, he could decide not to unveil it to the wider world. Fortunately, reviews for the Ben A. Williams-directed adaptation of John Donnelly's play about gay footballers have been positive, including Screen's verdict.

Kenworthy's journey with The Pass started in early 2014, when he managed to secure a ticket to the sold-out Royal Court run courtesy of neighbour Russell Tovey, who was playing the lead role of Jason, a closeted gay footballer whose story unfolds across three nights in different hotel rooms.

On the evening he went, Kenworthy was struck by the fact that two thirds of the audience were women, which he found an interesting turnout for a play about a young gay professional footballer who feels trapped in his situation and the emotional damage that causes. "It's an extraordinarily powerful piece of writing," says the producer.

While he's a Manchester United season-ticket holder, Kenworthy is by no means a football obsessive. Instead, he connected to the story through his experiences of growing up in the UK in the 1960s, when homosexuality was still illegal, and being in close quarters with other boys - many of them his friends - without ever being able to tell them he was gay.

"Now it's very different, but this particular world of football sort of recreates my experiences growing up," he says. "For whatever reason, nobody in the Premier League has felt able to come out."

The idea of turning The Pass into a film began to grow on Kenworthy as he mulled over improvements he might look to make for a big-screen version - including a different ending. With the action taking place in three hotel rooms, the budget could easily be contained and wouldn't need to come anywhere near those of his previous two films The Eagle and Love Actually, which cost $25m and $50m respectively.

"A crucial part of my decision to film it was a realisation that the knee-jerk reaction about 'opening up' a play was definitely unnecessary in this case," says Kenworthy. "The whole point is it's an intimate piece set in hotel rooms - why lose that huis clos intensity by inventing action to take us outside? What attracted me to it in the first place was the forced closeness of these characters. It's an integral part of the drama. Opening it out would have dissipated all that intimacy."

Kenworthy didn't approach the BFI or any other UK funding schemes or outside investors, wanting to retain complete creative control and deciding to make the project entirely in house through his production company Toledo.

"I didn't want anyone else involved," he says. "When you make any film, there's always a chance it won't be as brilliant as it was in our heads. I said to everyone, 'Let's not publicise the fact that we're making it. Let's not talk about it and then if it's bad, we'll just write it off. But if it's good, that will be a fantastic result.'"

Kenworthy hired his former assistant Williams, whose Tube Tube series of short films shot on the London Underground had earned him some media attention, to make his feature directing debut, and together with Donnelly they set to work adapting the play into a film script. …

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