Mike Newell

by Pat Collins

Donie Brasco is your third feature film which is based on real-life events. Are you drawn to real life characters ?

I don't believe I am actually drawn to them. I would prefer a fiction any day. The rule of thumb for a piece of real life is that it must allow itself to be hammered into a real story.

As a director you're very hard to pin down. You transcend many genres, from a war movie to a romantic comedy, to a period film, and now you've made a gangster film.

I think that an awful lot of this is how you're brought up - what you're taught to expect. My generation of directors in England, Steve Frears and Mike Apted, people like that, we were young guys starting to work at a time when there were no movies in England. It was mostly American movies and so the place to go - the only place to go and work - was television. Television in the middle 60's was very hip and a great place to be. It was right on the cutting edge - there was new writing and people were doing things with the camera that they had never done before. It was really innovative and very exciting. And the other thing was that when you worked for a television company in those days, whether it was the BBC or Granada, they all operated like old style Hollywood studios. They regarded it as part of thier duty to give a very broad mix of entertainment to an omnivorous audience and so, in a drama outfit you would find comedies, thrillers, contemporary and period stuff If you weren't able to do all of the styles then you weren't doing the job. You were under contract, you had to do it. So we got into the habit of changing genres all the time. The guys we most admired were Arthur Penn and Sidney Lumet and Billy Wilder. All these people had come through a studio system or a T.V. system and they did everything: we got into that habit.

Were you working in television around the same time as Ken Loach ?

I think Ken Loach was one of the great leading light when we were young men and he's probably only five years older then me, but he was a generation beyond us. He was one of the guys we looked up to. He is someone who works in a lot narrower range because of all sorts of political and moral convictions that he has.

The writer of A Taste of Honey, Shiela Delaney, was the same writer that you used for Dance with a Stranger. Had you worked with her in your television days ?

No. I never worked with her before. Indeed, she was the producer's choice, a wonderful producer called Randolph Cutler who also produced The Commitments. She was on board before I was on board and then she and I did major redrafting and major script work, but she was an inspired choice.

The story of Dance with a Stranger is extremely harrowing and Miranda Richardson is so convincing that I can't imagine it actually being an enjoyable film to make.

Well, what film is enjoyable ? They're all full of stress and turmoil and hassle. People listen to you describe the experience and say 'Oh God, you make it sound so awful!' (laughs) but I think you talk to anyone who makes movies.... I daon't know if you could say they were masochists, that's probably going much too far, but one of the reasons they would say they're in film-making is that its like riding a really mean animal - and it is !!

Did you use your own experience of the 50's in making Dance with a Stranger ?

1950's England has, thank God, gone for ever. It was morally repressive and smug and hypocritical and brutal in all sorts of mean, secretive ways, just like the English (laughs) and I'm very glad that its not there anymore. I was a child and I can remember very clear sensations. I remember for instance what the magazines were like. I remember opening society magazines, Tatker and things like that and thinking 'Who the fuck are these people?''Who is brigadier so-and-so and his very lovely wife.' Obviously they ruled the world and I felt that I would never have my chance - that I came from the lower orders. I was very stably brought up, but I wasn't brigadier so-and-so and I thought that I would always be held down by these people. I remember that my mother in the fifties had no horizons whatsoever. She was a wife and mother and she didn't even learn to drive a car and so there was a great deal of personal stuff in that movie.

The remainder of this article can be found in Film West 28.