Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Unknown Brits Who Stole the Cannes Festival; How a [Pounds Sterling]2.5m Film Made by First-Timers Is about to Become the Year's Most Unlikely Hit

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Unknown Brits Who Stole the Cannes Festival; How a [Pounds Sterling]2.5m Film Made by First-Timers Is about to Become the Year's Most Unlikely Hit

Article excerpt


AS rags-to-riches tales go, this is one of the more remarkable of British cinematic success stories. It is, after all, the film from nowhere, made by unknowns for a pittance, that yesterday stunned the Cannes critics and stole the heart of canny Miramax supremo Harvey Weinstein, who wants to turn it into the most unlikely hit of the year.

Dear Frankie is a low-budget ([pounds sterling]2.5 million) British weepie starring Emily Mortimer as a Scottish single mother who fakes the existence of a seagoing husband for the sake of her deaf, nineyearold son.

Its fusion of a bittersweet story with soft, almost painterly visuals, affected Weinstein so deeply he put all of Miramax's legendary promotional power behind it on the strength of a 20-minute showreel screened at a Milan trade fair.

"He just loved it," says Miramax's London boss, Colin Vaines, "and so did I. It is tremendously moving, and Harvey's biggest pleasure is sharing what he enjoys with other people."

Miramax will roll out Dear Frankie in America and other countries before it is released here, which is almost unheard of for a British film, but already Weinstein's impulsive decision has been vindicated.

"We have just had a tremendously successful screening in Cannes," says Vaines. "Even a predominantly French audience was completely gripped and engaged despite the Scottish accents. It got a five-minute standing ovation."

Dear Frankie is the only British production in competition at Cannes for the coveted Un Certain Regard award, and is also eligible for the Camera D'Or for first-time filmmakers. For, amazingly, it is the creation of an actressturnedscriptwriter, Andrea Gibb, who had never before put pen to paper, and a director, Shona Auerbach, who had only one short film and a few commercials to her name. It was also seven years in the making.

"It was 1997 and I'd been sent some samples of work by writers for a feature film I was planning, says Auerbach, a soft-spoken, 36-year-old married mother of two. "But that project went straight on the back burner when I read Andrea's script. The idea was so beautiby Nick Curtis ful, so life-affirming.

I was fascinated by the love this mother had for her son, and the lengths she would go to to make him happy. It was my husband, Graeme Dunn, who was also my cameraman on the film, who first suggested it should be a feature."

The story, even then, had a brilliant economy and depth. Young mother Lizzie, fleeing her abusive marriage, fakes paternal letters from a made-up ship to console her young son. When a real ship of the same name docks at Greenock, where they are staying, Lizzie hires a stranger to "act" as the boy's father for a day, and the subsequent reappearance of Frankie's real father leads to a tender conclusion.

"Andrea's original script was bursting at the seams," recalls producer Caroline Wood. "It was ripe to be turned into a feature film."

STILL, that process took five long years. "I knew we had to have the script in cracking shape with Shona and Andrea being first-timers," says Wood. She busied herself by securing [pounds sterling]500,000 in initial funding and development money for Dear Frankie from Scottish Screen.

Gibb took acting jobs as she toiled on rewrite after rewrite of the script.

Auerbach made commercials, including a Gold Blend ad. Wood and Auerbach-also produced two children each in the interim: "Motherhood was definitely in the air," says Wood, wryly.

Then, in June 2002, Gibb delivered their own shared baby, a finished script.

Pathe agreed to handle British distribution and come up with the remaining funding - four-fifths of the tiny budget. …

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