Midlands Movies Mike spoke to director of new Leicester-set short film “Beverley”, Alexander Thomas, who after his red-carpet screening of the film to cast and crew was quick to praise the hard work of all involved and his thoughts on the support he received from the city throughout the making of his movie....
Alexander Thomas created TAG films in 2006 and with his first film “Portobello: Attack of the Clones” winning Best London film at a prestigious film festival, Alex has gone on to form a lasting relationship with producer Cass Pennant to whom he worked alongside in getting Beverley to the big screen.
Hi Alex. A big congratulations to you for your new film “Beverley”. What were your impressions when you met Beverley for the first time?
Thank you. Well, it all began with an informal chat many years ago with the real Beverley. She was a very interesting person as was her story and after that first conversation I could not shake her story from my head. However, it wasn’t until a good couple of years later when we sat down for a more formal chat did I come to understand more about her life and how this could make a very interesting film.
What were the next stages?
We did a number of chats over 3 or 4 hours at a time and the story began to take shape but only some of the story reflected what had happened to her for real. Beverley Thompson is clearly a real life person but it’s not like our film was going to be a biopic – so we had to add some things in.
What parts were added for the film?
Well, there really wasn’t a narrative as such – it was someone’s life so I had to work hard turning those incidents in her life into something cohesive. For me, it was taking some of those moments and stories from back then and filling them in with some of the other ideas I had about growing up and identity. This then helped give the whole thing an arc. Pulling it together was a difficult thing but that’s all part of the process to make a good film.
As someone who has lived in Leicester I enjoyed the fact that it was filmed in and around the city. Were the places the actual locations from Beverley’s life?
Highfields was definitely a place we wanted to go to and that was a real influence and, as we said in our ‘making-of’ documentary film, we really did go around and knock on people’s doors to see if we could find the right suburban street. It was funny but we did eventually get the house that we needed. Also, the scene of the live gig was set at The Shed which wasn’t open at the time but it had a kind of old school vibe. It was a really atmospheric place and the guy who runs it was very accommodating which helped a lot.
Had you been to Leicester many times yourself?
Not much at the start. But in fact, I grew up in Stratford upon Avon not too far away. I hadn’t been to Leicester for a long time but once we chose to film in the city we quickly arranged auditions at the local Phoenix cinema as well as holding our rehearsals there too. As I mentioned, we did lots of scouting for locations and the support of the community was great whilst out filming.
How long did it take edit once the shooting was complete?
We started at the back end of April last year and I worked on it with the editor Kristof Deak but he wasn’t in the country at the time so I was sending rushes to the editor abroad! However, everything started to speed up quickly once he got back to England.
And the music is such an important part of the film. How did you choose and get the soundtrack to the film together?
We were really lucky with Cass's connections and that meant we had some great tracks. Ranking Roger, Dave Wakeling, Ruts DC, Melbourne Ska Orchestra, King Sounds (who also plays Otis) all provided us with music. Neville Staple who also has a cameo wrote a track with his wife Christine for us and Stone Foundation who also gave us music even wrote us a title track (and some of the footage from the film will be in the music video for the song when it's released). I also worked together with the composer Rael Jones to finalise the sound track and he wrote some original pieces for the film too.
You mentioned that the short film could become a feature if there is interest. Where do you see the story going from here?
Well, I certainly cannot spoil it because I don’t even know myself! I guess we would broaden out the story but it could go in so many different directions given that the tale is about Two Tone and the effect it had on lives in Britain at that time. Two Tone was always about bringing people together across the country. It was an amazing cultural force that swept across the nation and it’s important that this is known and that we get that message out there. It also had a slightly political agenda. It was very open about being critical of Thatcherism and so forth. If you look at where we are now and the fact that so much of today can be related directly back to then. From issues of race to high unemployment my film certainly isn’t about how Two-Tone “won” that political fight.
How did that affect the film’s ending?
That’s one of the reasons at the end. Although I didn’t want to make a bleak film, even as a feature I’m not sure I can write a traditional happy ending. It was all very crazy at that time and also culturally conflicted. It was chaotic and it’s complex and that’s the reality of it.
It could be argued the cliff-hanger was a great device to leave a fan of short-films wanting even more?
It’s not quite a cliff-hanger for me. It’s more of a messed up situation with everybody being alienated and confused. The situation leaves the characters conflicted and lost and that for me is the honesty of what I’m trying to say. Hopefully though there is enough there that people want to see more – and they seem to – I will probably end up in a similar position in the feature where an honest ending expresses the complexity and inherent contradictions of the time.
Finally then, despite the confusion I thought the film had a positivity beneath the surface – for example, you showed the stereotypical racist neighbours eventually being friendly and finding common ground where it could easily have stayed as it was?
Thank you. Yes, Leicester is a great city for setting these things in motion as it’s a plural city and the film tried to reflect that. How we move British identity forward is a very big theme for me and although there are clashes, the film is very positive in the face of outdated attitudes.
To read more about Beverley and its coverage and showings at future film festivals then please visit the film’s main website here http://www.beverleyfilm.com
To read what I thought of the film itself, please read my feature review here: