Where did the idea come from?
When I was young, I read a book called The World Upside Down by Christopher Hill that transforms British History. The 17th century was so fascinating but I couldn’t find the right way in to the characters. Then I had this eureka moment and decided to make it a Western set in that time period.
I wanted to boil it down and create key conflicts of the time period in this microcosm: The Purist, the Ranters, the Cavaliers, and eventually the Quaker. They were key players of the period.
Fanny Lye is a character of enormous strength, resilience, and survival who gradually is released from her repression. How difficult was it to write her as such, giving a voice to the women of the time?
When you read pamphlets created at the same time, you’ll find there were many voices like Fanny’s. The government had control but men and women – common people – would express themselves. There is a wealth of material out there from amazing people and amazing women -Quaker women – who were outstanding. Lots of them went to prison for their views. The most famous being Mary Dyer who, like Fanny, became a Quaker and championed this new world. She was ultimately hanged for her views but Fanny is inspired by real life people who fought for their voices to be heard.
Maxine Peake is phenomenal in the lead role; how did you develop the role together?
The character was there in the script. But meeting Maxine, I knew she was right for the role. We shared a fascination for the 17th century so we really got to grips on why we should e making this film. She was exceptional.
John and Thomas are great opposing forces battling for Fanny’s soul – what drew you to Charles Dance and Freddie Fox in these roles?
They are friends in real life which made it funny because Thomas had to do such horrible things to John which I guess made it more bearable for Charles Dance (as John.)
The characters both have downsides and the idea is, ultimately, Fanny rejects them both to see her own way.
We know Tanya McDonald best for her role in Sex Education, but this film was her first filming experience.
Tanya McDonald is incredible and truly understood the character. The acting had to be good. She had one audition and we knew she was the best because she could tap into the essence of the character. She’s very committed and intelligent and plays kind of the lunch pin to the film.
How do the messages of film about religion and repression reflect today? We are still a freer than the 17th century but some are still trapped by religion.
I suppose that this is something that hasn’t been resolved – women’s rights, that is. It is beginning to breakthrough but you can trace it back those sentiments and voices of revolt all throughout history. Even to Boudicca.
How much work went into building the farm from scratch?
It was important to have a 360 set to feel that we are inside hat world. We built it ourselves and had to factor in the camera position within the house as well as all the different angles.
It definitely helps create the claustrophobic atmosphere of the film.
The mist was an important part of that. Originally it was supposed to be set in the snow and we were looking for an alternative. The smoke effect was really integral to that.
Also the costumes were handmade?
The materials came from a re-enactment society. They have such an amazing amount of knowledge in those communities. They make the material and Michael O’Connor handstitched them together.
You also wrote the score – how did that come about?
What happened was I’d be shooting and start to hear these musical cues and moments. As we progressed it just became clearer and clearer in my head. It was so specific. I studied music at university and it was nice to come back and revive it. I showed a couple of demos to the team and it built from there.
The composition took about a year and I think I was learning as I go along. You are just on your own and you chip away until you see the light at the end of the tunnel. The recording is amazing with this incredible orchestra!
Why did you choose to shoot on 35mm?
I never really felt the turn to digital. It depends on the project but we were going for a 1970s feel. It was going to be more authentic.
You described this as a Western but what movies inspired you?
Definitely 1970s Westerns. In a narrative sense, it was more of Ride in the Wildwood. There’s also Once Upon a Time in the West which is mostly shot on a single location to build that tension. Also we were inspired by sequences in On the Barnstead and Days of Heaven by Terence Malick.