Having done the works of Arnold Wesker and Caryl Churchill and JB Priestly, how important is politics in your work?
Well its a good question. Well Im an old soft lefty really, thats the stuff Im interested in and so thats the stuff I tend to do.
Is that because it interests you or do you think that art with social conscience can instigate change?
I dont know whether Id describe it as social conscience necessarily but I do still stupidly believe that art can change the world and does. One wants, I want to have an active engagement in the problems and possibilities of the time I live in and, I suppose, most of the work I do is vaguely lefty.
How easy was it to get such an honest performance out of Jamie Bell?
Well Jamies fantastic, it was a total joy. You have to create the right emotional context in which the kid can flourish and I was very lucky with the crew, particularly Brian Tufano the DOP. To create an atmosphere on set that would allow the kids to play, it was safe and they could mess about with the cameras. It felt very safe and emotionally secure for the kids and it wasnt just Brian, the whole crew were fantastic with the kids.
What was it like actually shooting in a mining community given the film's subject matter and everything that had happened there?
I think there was mixed feelings in Eastington to be honest, a lot felt very happy that we were shooting a film based around the miners strike and some thought that we were opening up old wounds - so it was mixed.
Was it the mining side of the story that attracted you to the film?
I spent a lot of time in Sheffield, went to university there and stayed on afterwards. My first paid job was working with a mining community just outside Sheffield with a company called Doncaster Arts Co-operative. During the strike wed made a piece of work called, Never the same again that wed toured around the Miners Welfares. It was a piece based on the wives of the miners so I suppose I was quite emotionally engaged to what was going on. So when Lee Hall sent the script in and Id read it, I was instantly very happy to do it as it is one of the most important moments in post war domestic politics. It was the fight that changed everything. Margaret Thatcher very consciously stated that her intention was to destroy the consensus of 1945, which she managed to do. The battle with the unions focused and came to a culmination with her absolute determination to destroy not just the industrial base of this country but also the trade unions, the most powerful of which was the NUM. What she was up to was industrial genocide in a nutshell so you could criticise the film for not covering the big politics of that miners strike in detail. Im aware of that but for me its still potent to remind everybody of what went on.
Its a very up beat film - do you think the North has recovered from what happened in the mid-80s?
I would say that neither the Durham coal field or the Northumberland coal field have recovered, I think those communities are underdeveloped and they dont have the promise of regeneration, there is very little new industry. To my mind, what the miners and the NUM said was going to happen, ie. Mines shut down and communities torn apart, did actually happen.
Did you have any worries about making a social realist film given the number - and quality - that Britain has produced?
I dont think I was nervous about that, more fucking terrified about where to put the camera! Obviously there are homages paid to those different filmmakers, some conscious and some not.
Why do you think it is we make so many films that focus on working class communities?
I dont know why. Why do we make so many films with Helena Bonham-Carter prancing around a garden in a frock? What I find interesting is the high or low art debate that somehow, working class based, social realist films are often communicated within a high art sensibility. Mostly, I think those directors refer to the eastern Europeans for inspiration, which is weird. Somehow, what is popular culture, real or political life is arthouse. We were quite conscious that it should not be like that, we consciously fucked about with the argument that ballet should be high art within a film that could be described as low art. Described, that is, by a critical intelligentsia that would perceive it pejoratively as commercial but that was just us having fun.