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netribution > features > interview with jonathan woolf > page one
A brief history of Romulus films could comfortably fill a novella but here goes. Veteran producer C.M Woolf co-founded the Rank organisation in the early 30's with 'King Arthur' s' flour milling fortune and they systematically monopolised the British film industry. They systematically acquired control over every phrase of the business - production, processing, distribution and exhibition. By the mid 40's the company owned more than half of the British studios and over 1000 theatres.
Meantime the young Woolf brothers John and James removed themselves from the Rank empire to start up the London based indie production company, Romulus Films in 1949. In their first two years they took huge risks in acquiring A-list US talent for their big budget, Anglo-American productions. It paid off. Their debut film, Albert Lewin's Pandora and the Flying Dutchman with James Mason and Ava Gardner was followed up by the legendary hit, The African Queen. The script was nominated, Bogart won best actor and Hepburn's was pipped to her second Oscar (of three) by Vivian Leigh's Blanche Dubois. With John Huston at the helm and Jack Cardiff as DP (he worked with Romulus many times) it was an instant hit and established the young company as a British based heavyweight.
In the next 20 odd years they personally produced a number of first rate British movies including, Room at the Top, The L-Shaped Room and later, Oliver!, Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File.
John's son Jonathan had become a success as an investment and merchant banker in the City, a profession that included the necessary skills to oversee the company's library and investment interests after his father had retired. When Sir John died in 1999 his son asked Stuart Urban, who he'd known at university years before, to direct the tribute at BAFTA. That very successful and fitting working relationship has now culminated in Romulus' first feature in 27 years. Under Jonathan as producer, Romulus is back with the stars, the passion, the talented director and, with the luck that comes from John and James' original ambition, great things are expected for the future

| by tom fogg |
| photos by giles keyte|
| in london |
  Give us a very brief history of Romulus films.
Well Romulus films was started by my father back in the 1950 or '49, I think, with his brother James Woolf. He had left the Rank organisation, which his father had co founded with Arthur J Rank originally, he decided to go independent to make his own films and his very first film was Pandora and the Flying Dutchman with James Mason and Eva Gardner, it did relatively well. In those days it was not easy to get a British film together, and certainly not with major stars. What he used to do was go to America and get the big names over to England, including big directors as well as big actors and he made a name for himself for being able to do that. His big start was The African Queen (top left) which he funded himself partially - if that had gone badly then he would have been bankrupt. But it was a big success, with Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, directed by John Huston and that really set him going on his career and he and his brother, my uncle, made a number of major films in the 50s and 60s.

What are your first memories of the films they were making and your involvement in them?
Well, personally I grew up with it all around me, but never really got involved in it on a day to day basis. I did go along to a couple of film sets and I do remember going along to the film set of Oliver! That was in the late 60s…

With Sir Alec Guinness?
No, no, this was Lionel Bart's musical version of Oliver, which won an Oscar - well won seven Oscars actually. Best Film, Best Director etc. So I went along to a couple of days shooting and was an extra one day but I never really had great exposure to what was going on. Certainly wasn't encouraged to go into the industry.

No, not at all. My father thought it was a difficult industry and preferred that his family didn't … or his son didn't get involved. My career was in the City - by profession a merchant banker/investment banker and I joined them, our company Romulus when I left the City in 1992/93. Really in order to continue to be a financial professional because, by that time, my father had finished making films and it was basically a film library and investment company. We used to re-invest our royalties in investments and I was a fund manager, but sadly my father died last year, in 1999, and it was at the end of that year, actually, that I decided that maybe we might go back into production. Over Christmas holidays I'd discovered an old script which had been sent to us five years previously, obviously as a film production company people had been sending us stuff all the time asking us to invest or produce and we had never done much ??? certainly our last feature was in 1976 which was Frederick Forsyth's Odessa File, but we'd done nothing since then. So I took this script home at Christmas and gave it a read and realised at the heart of it had the most fantastic idea. It needed to be enlarged, developed and rewritten and I asked Stuart the director, who's also a writer, to rewrite it. I bought the original script immediately, and we spent about four months developing it. We realised we really had quite an interesting property, a very unusual story, something very timely for the new millennium, something that would appeal to a wide range of different audiences, young, middle aged, particularly female audience - a more grown-up audience.
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