Just another rainy day in London. The mood at a swanky but down-to-earth eatery in the East End is tense. By the window, a young couple have something of a disagreement. She then walks out whilst he sits back in his chair, resigned to his fate. Someone from across the room yells “cut!”
Suddenly the mood livens, the rain stops, the girl walks back in and laughs with her companion and around them a gaggle of technicians get to work, fixing lighting, trailing cables and turning on smoke machines. Welcome to the world of Franklyn. The girl is Eva Green, the boy Sam Riley and the sorcerer who changed the mood in the room with a single word is first-time director Gerald McMorrow.
Rotten Tomatoes has come to his set to find out more about his creation. Intrigued as we’ve been by the premise, we still don’t quite understand it on paper. And as we stand in the East End bar, confusedly trying to put the pieces together for ourselves, he eventually helps us out.
“Franklyn is basically about four intertwining stories, three of which are based in contemporary London and one of which is based in a kind of parallel fantasy environment called Meanwhile City,” he says (and this is where it gets confusing) “Our hero in that strand is this sort-of masked vigilante detective who’s the only atheist in Meanwhile City, played by Ryan Phillippe, who basically runs around trying to extract people from cults, has a big cynicism about the whole thing and hates The Ministry with a vengeance.”
Meanwhile City? The Ministry? “It’s this place which is sort-of run by a shadowy, religious uber-power called The Ministry who has decided, over the centuries, that as long as they can get their population to believe in something – anything – they can control them. People have faiths and religions based on strange things like The Seventh Day Manicurists and Washing Machine Street Preachers. Their doctrines and dogmas are all based on things like washing machine instructions.”
Right. So that’s one of the four strands explained, then. “The other three strands are in contemporary London. Eva Green plays Amelia who’s basically a much damaged, suicidal art student who’s drifting in and out of her video art installations involving cry-for-help suicide attempts. Then you have Sam Riley who plays Milo, and he’s probably much more normal and down-to-earth and he’s basically just been jilted at the altar. That promotes him to suddenly try and search for the purity of his first love. And then the fourth story belongs to Bernard Hill who plays Peter, a church warden in Cambridge who comes down to London to find his homeless son. And all four strands come together at the end.”
Alas, asking McMorrow how they connect, which is really the sticking point for us right now, would spoil the ending, and so we remain confused. “It’s rather intricate piece of plot work, but it’s one of those things; you can’t really say too much. But ultimately, hopefully, it’s one of those things where if I were going to see it, I wouldn’t want to be told ahead of time.”
“It’s quite different from Control,” jokes Sam Riley, making reference of his decidedly more earthbound breakthrough in the Ian Curtis biopic. “It’s in colour, for a start, so you’ll be able to see my spots!” he laughs. “Honestly though, working with Eva has been brilliant, and Ryan Phillippe is such a nice guy. He’s great in this from what I’ve seen; I don’t really share too many scenes with him. And Bernard Hill’s just a legend really. I like the fact that everyone’s got their little tale to tell, and you never really know what the fuck’s going on until the last minute. I love those films.”
Rotten Tomatoes was treated to a first look at some pre-CG footage shot the previous evening, on location at the Greenwich Naval College. It shows Ryan Phillippe’s masked Jonathan Preest (he’s an atheist called Preest, oh the irony!) walking the streets amidst the strangely dressed denizens of Meanwhile City as they practice their odd religions. Think Mirrormask meets The Matrix, though the crew are quietly confident the film’s success will more resemble the latter. And, of course, McMorrow is hoping Franklyn won’t be as easy to pigeonhole as that. “It’s hard because we don’t want to tell people to expect The Matrix from it; they’ll probably be disappointed if they do.”
As the crew get ready for another take, McMorrow explains what they’re up to today: “We’re shooting Sam and Eva together… and we’re vaguely getting into the realms of giving something away, because Eva plays two roles in this film. You’re seeing Milo seeing her in her alter-ego. This is the climax of the film.” We’re not getting any less confused…
Such complexity is a risk for the film, but the director will be hoping its stellar cast and production team will help the film reach an audience. And it’s being produced by Jeremy Thomas who can claim Fast Food Nation, The Dreamers and Naked Lunch as his own. More importantly, while it may be McMorrow’s debut feature, his 2002 short Thespian X, about an actor in the distant future queuing up to sign on for benefits, proves that this is a man who can handle high concept. The film may not be easily surmised in a sentence, but when has that ever been the case with intelligent sci-fi/fantasy movies?
“It’s complicated, but ultimately I think once you see it it’ll make sense,” says McMorrow. “I don’t want to make it inaccessible. There’s a whole generation of us who grew up with movies like Star Wars, and a new generation growing up with The Matrix. I certainly explored the more traditional side of Hollywood, but my thing was I always wanted to make a movie that had a similar effect on its audience as those movies. It wasn’t just enough to watch it; I’d look back at the audience watching it. The film may be ambitious – it’s not really something done independently and certainly not independently in Britain – but I think it can be done, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to do it.”
“It’s been great that this is a British movie,” adds Riley, “because it’s hard enough to get funding for any movie in this country, let alone something like this. It’s the sort of project that could sink or swim – particularly with its twisty ending – but the script is so fantastic and Gerald knows exactly what he’s after. I think we all feel we’re in safe hands with him.”
We’ve got a good few months of post production still to go, and then the film will be looking for a distributor, but you can probably expect to see Franklyn on the big screen next year. As far as we’re concerned, the line for tickets starts right here.