Sunday, May 10, 2009

Book Review: Story and Character: Interviews with British Screenwriters (edited by Alistair Owen)



Despite the UK being very influential and important in the global screenwriting arena, there haven't been very many books concentrating on the British screenwriter and letting him/her tell their side of the story. Luckily, Story and Character does just that.

Though the book isn't terribly recent (it was published in 2003 and most of the interviews were taken in 2001 - 2002), the selection of the writers hasn't dated one bit. In fact, this distance at times makes it even more interesting. We hear Richard Curtis talking about his next project, which became Love, Actually; and we share Simon Beaufoy's frustration when faced with the inevitable expectations of a follow-up hit to The Full Monty, whereas Beaufoy was only interested in telling some highly personal, very art-housey projects. And obviously he's still doing that, having written a little-seen Danny Boyle movie about an impoverished low-caste Indian participating on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? What was it called again... Oh yes, Slumdog Millionaire or something.

The writers interviewed are:

Rupert Walters (who wrote for Disney among others and adapted a book for John Woo)
Lee Hall (Billy Elliot)
Richard Curtis (4 weddings, Mr. Bean, Blackadder etc.)
Frank Cottrell Boyce (one of Michael Winterbottom's main writers)
Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (who have been writing crappy Bond films since The World Is Not Enough)
Shawn Slovo (South African screenwriter of A World Apart and Captain Corelli's Mandolin)
William Boyd (succesful novelist, also became a screenwriter and director)
Hossein Amini (Iranian-born writer of Jude and The Wings of a Dove)
Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Slumdog Millionaire).



Alistair Owen proves to be an excellent interviewer. Each and every one of the interviews is interesting all the way through, even those of the writers you don't really know much about.

Some highlights include Richard Curtis admitting he doesn't know a lot about structure, and Purvis and Wade constantly finishing each other's sentences.

Many of these writers also worked in America, with varying degrees of success, and as such the book also offers a lot of interesting comparisons between the mindsets of the British and the American film world.




There's also a lot more reticence towards screenwriting manuals and courses in these interviews than are normally found in interviews with American writers, although this attitude may have shifted over the years.

The only negative I can mention is that there haven't been any sequels to Story and Character. And there damn well should have been, as it would have been fascinating to get an updated look at the state of British screenwriting every two years or so. In any case, highly recommended reading for everyone with an interest in screenwriting in Britain.

You can get it here:

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