Franklyn may be Gerald McMorrow‘s debut feature film, but by the standards of even the most experienced of helmers it’s an ambitious and visually-stunning movie, telling the tale of four disparate souls — played by Ryan Phillippe, Eva Green, Sam Riley & Bernard Hill – who find each other on their quest to find themselves. Part set in contemporary London and part set in a mythical fantasy world called Meanwhile City — whose inhabitants must, by law, find religious faith even if that means taking washing machine instructions as their bible — it’s one of the most original and exciting British films of the year. Exclusively on RT, McMorrow opens his sketchbook and explains his vision for the film.
Franklyn is four intertwining stories, three of which are based in London, one of which is based in a parallel fantasy environment called Meanwhile City. It’s a shadowy, underworld place run by this organisation called The Ministry who have decided over the centuries that as long as they can get their population to believe in something, anything, they can control them. So you have religions like the Seventh Day Manicurists and the Washing Machine Street Preachers.
Our hero in this strand of the tale is a vigilante detective who’s the only atheist in Meanwhile City. He’s called Jonathan Preest, played by Ryan Phillippe. Basically, he runs about extracting people from cults and has this level of cynicism for the whole thing. He hates The Ministry with a vengeance. At the beginning of the film we find him incarcerated by The Ministry and released to do a job on their behalf — to track down the leader of this cult.
The other three strands are set in contemporary London. Eva Green plays Emilia, a much damaged, suicidal art student drifting in and out of her video art installations involving cry-for-help suicide attempts. And I think it’s definitely Eva’s movie. It really becomes all about her and her journey.
There’s a moment towards the end between Ryan and Eva, which was really the moment that inspired the start of the story — it was going to be a short film about a girl in an apartment trying to commit suicide and an assassin in the apartment above trying to take someone out. He comes down and she goes from trying to take her own life to fighting for it within 30 seconds.
Sam Riley plays Milo, more of a normal, down-to-earth guy who’s been jilted at the altar. That promotes him to finally try and look for the purity of his first love, a friend of his from when he was a kid. Our final story is Bernard Hill’s, and he plays Peter Esser, a churchwarden in Cambridge. He comes down to London to find his son who’s gone missing.
The whole point of concealing Ryan’s face as Preest was really to show how far he’d gone and to make the most of it when you finally see this really damaged young man. The whole conceit of Ryan’s casting — and the fact he was American was just another bonus — is that if you’re going to imagine yourself to be anything you’d probably want to imagine yourself as Ryan Phillippe! He’d also just worked with Clint Eastwood and so had this fantastic drawl to his accent. All those things stacked up to give you both barrels of the sadness of his character towards the film’s end.
As much as I have an interest in the traditional classics of cinema and I appreciate all of that stuff, I’m the first to admit that I’m a child of Star Wars. I was seven years old when I saw that film and my thing was that I really wanted to make an audience feel like that. It wasn’t enough to watch it; I wanted to make people feel like they felt when they saw that film.
At the same time, this is not V for Vendetta and it’s not The Matrix and it’s not Watchmen, though the Meanwhile City angle has been played up in advertising for the film, understandably. I don’t believe it’s science fiction and it’s not a superhero movie. It’s for rather lost and fractured people who have slipped out of reality and try to find themselves. And, you know, there’s a little bit of gallows humour in the film regarding religion, but at the same time there is this rather lovely other force helping these people along. They’re all, weirdly, in good hands and, I think, end up where they should be.
All of the heads of department and everyone concerned with the film was behind it, which was a really great thing. Everybody wanted the film to look good and be right, you know, and that was a fantastic thing. The great thing about Double Negative, our effects house, is that they do a ‘charity case’ every year, and take pity on a small film like ours! We were walking into rooms where they had Hellboy 2 on one screen and The Dark Knight on another, and when they have projects like those it’s so great they’d make room for us. Meanwhile City was put together by them as 2D matte paintings with parallax perspective moves giving the impression of a 3D city — we just didn’t have the budget to model the entire city — but it looks so good that you’d never tell the difference and the city is utterly believable.
Franklyn is released in the UK on 27th February. US and AU release dates are to be confirmed.