|Kathy Bates, who had previously worked with director Beeban Kidron on
Used People, recalls her thoughts on first reading the script for Swept From the Sea.
"I had hoped there would be another chance to work with Beeban," Bates
remembers. "Then she sent me this wonderful script, which I read in one sitting. I
just loved the character of Miss Swaffer. She's a kind of Miss Haversham figure, but with
a good heart, a deep wisdom and compassion, and that shows through in the way she relates
to these young lovers."
As for Dr. Kennedy, perhaps the adversity he has suffered in his own life makes it easier to relate to the alienation Yanko feels in his new surroundings. "Kennedy has his own tragedy in his past," says McKellen of his character. "He has moved away from everything he knows in order to start a new life. Like Yanko and Amy, he feels somewhat stranded in this closed community."
Both producer Charles Steel and producer Polly Tapson feel Swept From the Sea is more than just an ordinary love story. "A lot of Conrad's stories are about man against nature" says Steel, "and although the original story of Amy Foster is only 30 pages, it has an epic feel which attracted us. The passion between the characters is mirrored in the screenplay by the overpowering landscape and the huge storms of nature."
Tapson agrees and adds, "We are making a film that is true to the heart and the integrity of the Conrad story. We found the story and Tim's screenplay profoundly moving. It balances tragedy and irony with optimism, and we believe it will appeal to a wide international audience."
"This love story is very strong and very modern," says Perez. "Themes of emigration and intolerance are also very contemporary. This is a story that could happen anywhere in the world."
Producer Steel adds: "The only desire we had for this film is that it would move people. It's a modem story in many ways. Two outsiders come together and struggle to maintain their love in the face of hostility and prejudice. In spite of what they encounter, they would change nothing and go through it all again. I see that as hopeful and spiritually uplifting."
Director Beeban Kidron sees a universality in Swept From the Sea that will likely appeal to audiences on many levels. "I think everyone will recognize something of themselves in the two lead characters," she says. "Either as the great passionate lovers on the one hand or as the outsider on the other. Or both. This film has themes that are timeless."
"I would like to see people moved by this film," says producer Tapson, "because it's only by feeling something on an emotional level that you know clearly what's right and wrong. But what carries you along, first and foremost, is the love story, the story of a young girl who grows up and falls in love for the first time." It's really as simple as that.
About the Production
From the beginning, everyone associated with the film agreed that Swept From the Sea was to be epic in both look and execution. "Making a film is a bit like a ship setting out to sea," says producer Polly Tapson. "It gets tossed this way and that, and it's all hands on deck to make sure you reach the final destination. Obviously that can get difficult if people have different visions of how the film should end up. But on this film, I think everyone involved had the same end vision in mind."
The first steps in realizing that vision were selecting a group of talented filmmakers who would complirnent each other completely and the casting 6f the key roles. "This story demanded a director who was very much performance driven," says producer Charles Steel.
Beeban Kidron returned to Britain following her success in the United States with Used People and To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, and both Steel and producer Polly Tapson considered her the perfect choice. "There were themes in some of her early work, particularly Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which had affinities with the themes of Swept From the Sea," recalls Tapson.
Kidron was drawn to the project for many reasons, including the quality of the original Conrad story, the brilliant adaptation by Tim Willocks and the chance to make a film in her native England.
Sir Ian McKellen credits the presence of Kidron not only for his decision to play the part of Dr. Kennedy, but for the depth of his performance as well. "I always feel there is no point in playing a wonderful part unless you have a wonderful director," states McKellen. "and when I found out that Beeban was directing, that made the project immediately interesting to me. I knew it wasn't going to be one of those costume dramas where everything is sanitized. It was a treat for everybody, whether actor or crew member, to watch Beeban bring this film to such believable life."
Vincent Perez found the experience of working with Kidron a most fulfilling one. "Beeban's approach to directing is very precise but also very free," he says. "I wasn't very far from Yanko and I guess she saw that. We never had to struggle to find a scene because the script was very well written, and she knew exactly what she wanted. But she was always ready for an actor to surprise her, which is great."
High praise for Kidron comes from Kathy Bates as well. "Beeban works very solidly from the script," recalls Bates. "She's a wonderful storyteller herself and she goes deep into what the characters are really thinking. You feel a sense of trust with Beeban that makes the atmosphere on the set very relaxed and professional."
The task of turning Conrad 30-page story into a feature length film fell to Tim Willocks. "Tim has the ability to tell stories for the big screen in a very cinematic way," says producer Steel. "What's especially interesting with this script is that he's using his very considerable skills as a contemporary writer to tell a classic story."
"Tim Willocks screenplay knocked me for six," marvels Kidron in typically British understatement. "I thought it was interesting that this 100-year old story could be so easily retold today."
For his part, Tim Willocks wanted to explore what he considered the implications in Conrad's short story. "The love story is under the surface of Conrad's story," says Willocks. "Conrad's interest, as in most of his writing, was the way that nature and human forces conspire to defeat human beings and cause them grief."
Willocks describes the collaboration with director Beeban Kidron as ajoy. "She is very good at sensing the core of a scene," he states. "She was able to dig a bit deeper into some of the more fundamental scenes and relationships and dramatize them in a more cinematic way. It was a fantastic working relationship, and I would love to work with her again."
Producers Tapson and Steel would then bring on board such talented filmmakers as director of photography Dick Pope, production designer Simon Holland and costume designer Caroline Harris. Individually, these filmmakers are wonderful talents. Together, they brought this passionate and epic tale to life.
Director of Photography Dick Pope shares Beeban Kidron's background in documentary making and has as well an impressive list of feature films to his credit, including Mike Leigh's Naked, Secrets & Lies and Career Girls. "For any cinematographer, the chance to shoot a period film in a setting such as this is something to die for," says Pope. "When I first read the script, I felt as if I knew the film, that it was a classic waiting to happen. That feeling has never left me."
For production designer Simon Holland, the challenge was to provide a landscape of sparse, uncluttered simplicity. The rugged, bleak but beautiful Cornish coastline and hilltops provided the perfect background for the film's epic love story. When authentic period locations could not be found, they had to be built. Holland's constructions included an entire coastal village and a solid clifftop cottage strong enough to withstand a local hurricane during filming.
Costume designer Caroline Harris stressed the importance of the costumes belonging not merely to the period, but to the character. "You can't discount individuality, especially on this film which deals very much with depression," says Harris; Indeed, Rachel Weisz acknowledges Harris' importance to her performance. "I never felt as if I was in a costume drama," she says. "When I put on Amy's clothes, I felt dressed, not costumed."
To portray the fated lovers, the producers turned to two of the cinema's most exciting young talents. Rachel Weisz, who made her screen debut in Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty, says this about her starring turn as Amy Foster. "It was a big responsibility. Emotionally and psychologically I had to enter a different kind of world. I didn't feel able to just tune in and out of the character. I feel I led another life while playing this role."
Weisz was not necessarily the first choice of the filmmakers. "There were thoughts of going for a more established name," says producer Charles Steel, "but once we saw Rachel, we all said 'Yes. This is Amy Foster."'
Beeban Kidron agrees. "I met her in the morning and went on to see several other actresses, but by the end of the day, the only one I could remember was Rachel. What attracted me to her was a very timeless and authentic kind of beauty that you find in film stars of the past like Merle Oberon. She also has a stillness about her and an ability to express a lot of things through the eyes. I needed that gift for Amy."
It was a performance in the Cannes prize-winner La Reine Margot, in which he made an impressive impact as Isabelle Adjani's lover, that made Vincent Perez the first choice of the filmmakers for the pivotal role of Yanko.
Director Kidron was impressed with Perez' willingness to take on whatever challenges the role offered. "If he needs to dance, he learns to dance," marveled Kidron. "If he needs to speak Ukrainian, suddenly he can speak Ukrainian. Purely in terms of technical prowess, he's very impressive. He's also a lot of fun, and has an incredible sweetness as a human being that he brings to the role. And it doesn't hurt that he's also drop-dead gorgeous."
For Perez, the challenge was as much personal as professional. "I felt I had to do this movie for my father," he says. "My father left Spain and my mother left Germany to seek a better life, just as Yanko did," he says. "When I read the script I felt something very intimate."
Ultimately, the success of any love story depends upon the chemistry between the two protagonists. "That's something that either happens or it doesn't," says Weisz. "With Vincent, it was brilliant - we never planned it or talked it through. It just happened in front of the camera. Working with him was a very happy experience."
Weisz is not the only one to sense that special chemistry. Sir Ian McKellen says, "I would be amazed if they don't set the screen alight."