Written by Jack Sherratt, Dan Thorburn
Produced by Sarah Palmer
Directed by Dan Thorburn
This short film immediately caught our attention when we spotted stars Neil Bell and Kris Hitchen, who you may recognise from the works of Shane Meadows and Ken Loach. But this effort from Northern filmmaker Dan Thorburn is much more than just a case of casting big names for the sake of it, as the indie actors bring this poignant drama to life with such nuance and a riveting chemistry.
Touching on themes of mental health and grief, and in particular the stigma attached to the idea of men speaking up and talking about their problems, this film is both simple in its execution, whilst tackling such a delicate issue with meticulous attention to detail. We had the pleasure of chatting to director Dan Thorburn about working with the cast, and the issues presented in the film.
JB: You worked with Neil Bell and Kris Hitchen – two great British indie actors – on this project. As a film which relies so heavily on its two characters, how helpful was it to have such experienced and talented performers on set?
DT: We always knew this film would need two extremely strong actors to carry such an important story through what is, for the most part, a very quiet and reserved film. When myself and the writer (Jack Sherratt) sat down with both Neil and Kris respectively we knew that we had something really special. Having two down to earth, Northern actors meant there was great chemistry not just between the cast but between the entire crew.
It was a joy to explore both actors’ range and really experiment with who they thought these characters were, and once we had finished arguing about football and started talking about the important messages behind the film, it became obvious that Neil and Kris felt very strongly about the emotional issues men face today. Their understanding of the need to repress emotions and the stigma around talking about feelings allowed both of them to tap into their characters’ sentiments. This made my job much easier, and my initial nerves from directing actors who have worked with Mike Leigh and Ken Loach were immediately dispersed.
I couldn’t have imagined working with a better cast for this film and I am super grateful to have had the chance to work alongside such lovely guys.
JB: The themes of grief and death are portrayed against the backdrop of quiet countryside, and the contrast of manual, very mechanical labour. Is there a particular reason you chose to make these characters power line repair men?
DT: I have found that there is always a real beauty to working with your hands, becoming completely proficient in something to the point that it just happens, like breathing or walking. The same goes for working with someone for long periods of time. Short hands appear that only the two of you would understand and before you know it there is no need to talk anymore. You both become a machine, which in some respects is very impressive.
The large and expansive pine forest that serves as the backdrop for the film helped me to portray these two big, strong, working men as small, alone and vulnerable. Just as the power line cuts through the natural beauty of the forest, each character’s lack of emotional communication cuts them off from the world and each other, leaving them to suffer in solitude.
Both Mike (Neil) and Rob (Kris) suffer with a multitude of serious issues that will affect all of us at some point in our lives, yet they choose to bottle up these feelings in a hapless effort to avoid being seen as weak. These outdated ideas of masculinity need to evolve and people need to address their issues before they lead to dangerous consequences.
One thing I have heard from audiences countless times through the film’s festival and theatrical run is: “I know a man like that” or “I knew a man like that”, and for me that solidifies the need to tell these stories and spread these messages.