by Hywel Davies
Simon Rumley is a director that has made a niche for himself in the realms of mind-warping cinema. With 15 film credits to his name, each more challenging than the last. Twisting the fabric of sanity and showcasing issues that most of us would be more than happy to sweep under the carpet. For Rumley, the line is never crossed, but pushed a few inches further towards the edge.
His latest 2017 ventures Crowhurst and Once Upon A Time In London see Rumley gradually departing from his typical formula. The former, depicts the tragic biopic of amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst, who succumbed to extreme isolation as he tried to sail around the world solo, ultimately leading to his demise. The latter a British crime epic detailing the true story of the London underground during the 1940s and ‘50s. We caught up with Rumley to get his take on his latest works.
What was it about the character of Donald Crowhurst that attracted you to make a film about him?
Well, I think there was something very quintessentially British about him. There’s that doggish spirit about him; that daring spirit, the absolute innocence and naivety that he went into that journey. The British Empire in a way was kind of partially founded on that spirit, but this was a rare occasion that it turned into a complete disaster. I thought it was a really interesting flipside to the British Empire. The other thing was we had a lot of respect for him and wanted to honour his courage really, despite some of the crazy things that he did.
You are incredibly vivid when it comes to portraying insanity, especially in Crowhurst and your previous film Fashionista. How do you put that to film?
Good question! I guess it comes from a while ago. My first few films were clearly dialogue driven with very little visual drama. At some point, I made a definitive decision in my filmmaking career that I’d like to try and write less and less dialogue, concentrating more on visual scenes where I’m showing not telling. I think the more I’ve written and progressed the more managed to do that. The music and the sound design is a massive part of that. There’s a lot of discordancy, both visually and aurally, they’re the two key things really.
In both films, I worked with the composer Richard Chester and sound designer Vince Watts who I’ve been working with on and off since about 2005. They both try and understand what I’m aiming for and enjoy what I’m aiming for.
Considering that you do a lot of flash backs/ dream sequences, do you follow your own set of rules structurally or do you just play for the film?
Every film is different. I think that every film I’ve done, even with the subject matters and the structures being completely different, I still feel that they are genuinely my films. I think it’s always going to be whatever’s best for the story structure. I’ve explored structure for quite a while now but, as much as I like it, I feel I’ve exhausted exploring it and it’s like going back to the drawing board. I lot of it came from spending time with Nicholas Roeg, whose films I have absolutely loved. His films always got me thinking, ‘God, how does he do those films?’ I have always tried to do films like that.
Amanda Fuller is one of the bravest actresses out there. What is it about her that makes you re-cast her in your films?
Well, with Red White And Blue we struggled to find an actress. Even a week before we actually started shooting, we still didn’t have an actress. So, we got a casting director in from LA to do a casting session. We saw about 40 actresses and I watched them all online, but Amanda was by far and away the best. She instinctively understood the role, she empathised with the character, her questions were intelligent and she had that doggedness and that vulnerability that was perfect. To be honest, there was no one else.
She is the loveliest person and a fantastic actress; nothing is too much trouble. She puts herself on the line from the completely naked sex scenes in RWAB, to being able to cry on cue. I could push her right to the limits and she wouldn’t complain. I really think she’s one of the best actresses of her generation and it’s kind of crazy that she hasn’t done bigger stuff really.
Coming on to your latest project, Once Upon A Time In London, what can you tell us about the film?
So, it’s based on the real-life story of Billy Hill and Jack ‘The Spot’ Comer. It’s kind of weird because I’ve never heard of either of those guys before I was approached to do this. The short pitch is that it’s the missing link between Peaky Blinders and the Kray twins. It’s set in the British crime circuit and the London underworld in the late 40s, early 50s. It’s an amazing story of camaraderie; betrayal; ambition; greed; loyalty; love; loss; all the kind of stuff. I think it’s kind of a mini epic really.
It’s not as challenging as the other films but it’s got some great fight scenes and some great music in it. It’s slightly lighter than my other films where you come out of them being slightly traumatised, which is of course deliberate, but I’d say this is more entertaining. I’m really excited about it.
Billy Hill was quite the character, that intimidating presence must have been hard to cast. What was it about Leo Gregory that got the part?
Leo has done a lot of stuff and he’s an amazing talent. He has this really great raw energy and is able to switch from that charming persona to that real thug and violent presence really well. I had seen him in a few films and thought he could offer something that many people couldn’t. It’s interesting, some actors are acting and some just are the role. I feel that he had a great affinity for this character and it’s something that he should be very proud of.
From an audience perspective, what can we expect from the film?
Well, I’d expect it to be engaging. It’s entertaining, there’s a bit of violence but we definitely haven’t gone over the top with it. There’s maybe one or two squirm scenes, but you know, a lot of the violence is just people punching each other because back then there was the death penalty. These gangsters, as much as they were pretty happy to fight each other all the time, what they never did was kill each other because that was almost like committing suicide. There was a greater intelligence then and whether you applaud what they did or not. Ultimately, it’s still immoral and illegal, but there was a smartness there, a daring and a boldness. I hope people will find that feeling, and still be engaged.
CROWHURST AND ONCE UPON A TIME IN LONDON RELEASES TBA