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Movies With Michael Doherty

Friday, 5 September 2008

This week is a movie special for 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' for our first week back. Last night the World Premiere took place in Dublin and we were there. We are also joined by one of the stars of the movie David Thewlis and author of the book John Boyne.

About the Movie:
Adapted from Irish author John Boyne's critically acclaimed internationally best-selling novel, "The Boy IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS" is an unforgettable story seen through the innocent eyes of Bruno, the eight-year-old son of the commandant at a concentration camp, whose forbidden friendship with a Jewish boy, Shmuel, on the other side of the camp fence has startling and unexpected consequences.

"The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" is a fictional story that offers a unique perspective on how prejudice, hatred and violence affect innocent people, particularly children, during wartime. The book was first published in 2006 and spent 66 weeks at Number One on the Irish Book Charts. It was also a New York Times bestseller and the winner of 2 Irish Book Awards, Bisto Book of the Year, and the Que Leer Award, among other accolades. The book has been translated into 35 languages and to date has sold 3 million copies worldwide.

From director Mark Herman and featuring an impressive cast including David Thewlis Vera Farmiga, and Rupert Friend, Miramax Films' The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is released in Irish cinemas September 12.

David Thewlis:
David Thewlis was born in Blackpool in 1963. The second of three children, he grew up in an apartment above his family's combination toy store and wallpaper shop. He studied in the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and graduated in 1985. He gained acting experience in the London stage and English television. His first feature film performance was in director Mike Leigh's Life is Sweet. Soon after that he starred in another movie written by Leigh, Naked. The movie was a success and so was David's performance - his screen behavior in the film was praised and David got awards and nominations from the Cannes jury, The New York Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics. David went on to demonstrate his versatility in a number of diverse roles, including Total Eclipse, Seven Years in Tibet and Besieged. In 1995 he wrote and directed a short film called Hello, Hello, Hello. In 2003 he wrote and directed a film called Cheeky. He has also written a novel that should be out in 2006.

In addition to his film and television work, Thewlis has also starred in Sam Mendes' The Sea at the Royal National Theatre, Max Stafford-Clark's Ice Cream at the Royal Court, Buddy Holly at the Regal in Greenwich, Ruffian on the Stairs/The Woolley at Farnham and Lady and the Clarinet at the Kings Head.

David is undoubtedly one of the most versatile of British actors. He first shot to critical and public acclaim for his powerful performance in Mike Leigh's Naked. His other most recent credits include, Veronika Decides to Die directed by Emily Young, Thewlis's reprisal of the role of Professor Lupin in David Yates's Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Paul Auster's The Inner Life of Martin Frost, John Moore's The Omen, Jordan Scott's All the Invisible Children, Terrence Malick's The New World, Ridley Scott's The Kingdom of Heaven, Alfonso Cuaron's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Richard Donner's Timeline, Paul McGuigan's Gangster No. 1, Peter Hewitt's Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?, Bernardo Bertolucci's Besieged, the Cohen Brother's The Big Lebowski, Jean Jaques Annaud's Seven Years in Tibet and John Frankenheimer's The Island of Dr Moreau. Other film credits include: Agnieszka Holland's Total Eclipse, Rob Cohen's Dragonheart, Mike Hoffman's Restoration, Caroline Thompson's Black Beauty, David Jones' The Trial, Paul Greengrass' Resurrected, Beeban Kidron's Vroom, David Caffrey's Divorcing Jack, and Short and Curlies and Life is Sweet, both for Mike Leigh.

David is currently living with actress Anna Friel. They have a 3 year old daughter Gracie Ellen Mary Friel. (Previously David was married to Sara Sugarman)

David Thewlis plays Bruno's father, the camp commandant. "I've always been a big fan of David's," says Herman (Mark Herman, director). "His role is one of the trickiest in the film, because in the first half he has to come off as a loving, human father. Yet our viewers will know who this father really is. It's a very difficult acting job, to play this normal family life. David's fantastic in that warm side. It sort of makes you wonder about the hidden dark side of anyone who seems family-minded like him."

"I think the difference with this script is that it's seen from a German point of view, through the eyes of a German child. In the beginning, it looks like the part I'm playing, that of a loving father (and it's immediately apparent what he's really doing) might be showing some sympathy," says David Thewlis. "The challenge is not to play a clichéd, two-dimensional evil Nazi. In my research, I came to learn that my character was very much based on fact. We do not say which camp it is in the film but it's obviously not Auschwitz because I would then be playing Rudolf Hoess who had five children and raised them in the middle of Auschwitz, within sight of the crematoria. And it's not Joseph Goebbels whose six children were taken down into the bunker at the very end of the war and were poisoned by Goebbels and his wife, who then killed themselves. It's not at all unthinkable that such a story as this could happen. It's a piece of fiction but it's based on plausible situations. We increase the distance of our 'film' house from the camp but in reality, they were a matter of yards away."

Thewlis continues: "I don't think I've researched a film as much as this for years because I felt a great duty to do that. Usually, I take someone from my own life, someone I've met at some point and think, that person could have been like this person. How can I apply those characteristics? Whereas I've never met anyone who at all resembles the character I'm playing here because it's quite unimaginable to understand how one could be a loving father - I'm sure he is a loving father - and at the same time, leave your children at breakfast, go next door - literally- and spend your day amidst these terrible, terrible, terrible atrocities. How do you get your mind set into that?"

Like Vera Farmiga, Thewlis read many personal documents written by the architects and perpetrators of the Final Solution in preparation for his role as a camp commandant: "I was given a letter that Rudolf Hoess wrote to his children just before his execution. It was lying around at home, on my kitchen table, and I had some neighbours over. I hadn't told them what I was working on. They saw this letter lying around and started reading and when they'd finished it, they turned to me and said, 'Oh, what a beautiful, heart-rending letter this man has written to his children! Who was he? Why was he dying? Was he sick?' To which I replied, 'Yeah, he was VERY sick!' But the letter is clearly written by a man with an intense love for his children; it's very articulate, very touching, almost poetic. Try and understand a human being - a sensitive human being - but one who's capable of this! No way can I find it in myself to justify or forgive, obviously. But my job was to somehow find the humanity in him, and not to see all these people - as the cliché goes - just as monsters. They were human beings. And there are people out there today that are just like him."

"To me, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is interesting on many levels," says Thewlis. "There's my part which is quite straight forward; then there is my wife who accepts the idea of a prison camp but slowly comes to realize that I'm actually engaged in genocide and then we see the effect that has upon our marriage. You have my daughter, Gretel, seduced by the rhetoric, the politics, The Fatherland. Her flirtation with the young soldier is almost an ideological seduction. My father is fully behind The Reich but my mother is thoroughly opposed to everything Fascism stands for and she's very vocal about it. So within this one family, you've got five or six different points of view that evolve throughout the film, and then of course, you have Bruno whose point of view shifts several times during the course of the story until the very end. To see the film as a fable is to see the disintegration of the family, and hopefully, therein lies the punishment for the father's sins."

About the Book:
"The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" was published in early 2006 and quickly found an international audience among both children and adults. In Ireland it won two Irish Book Awards: Children's Book of the Year and People's Choice Book of the Year, and was short-listed for the overall Irish Novel of the Year Award. It has been short-listed for many international prizes: the Ottakar's Children's Book Prize (UK), the British Book Award (UK), the Paolo Ungari Prize (Italy) and the Borders' Original Voices Award (USA). As of late April 2007, it had spent 44 weeks at number one in the Irish Bestseller Charts. The book was a Top 10 bestseller in the UK and many European countries, reached number one in Australia, and was a New York Times bestseller.

About the Author of the Book:
John Boyne was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1971. He studied English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, where he was awarded the Curtis Brown prize for that year's outstanding student writer.

His early work was mostly short stories, the first of which, published in New Irish Writing, was short-listed for a Hennessy Literary Award in Ireland. He has published 5 other novels. "The Thief of Time" (2000) tells the story of Matthieu Zela, a man who cannot age. "The Congress of Rough Riders" (2001) is an account of the life of Buffalo Bill Cody, told from the viewpoint of his fictional great-grandson William. "Crippen" (2004) is a retelling of the famous 1910 murder case, and was a Borders' New Voices choice in the USA. "Next of Kin" (2006) is a psychological drama in the vein of Patricia Highsmith, based around the events of the 1936 Abdication Crisis in England. "Mutiny on the Bounty" (2008) is a fresh re-telling of the Bounty story seen through the eyes of a fourteen year old cabin boy.

He writes regularly for the Irish Times and the Sunday Tribune newspapers in Ireland and has contributed articles to many other newspapers and magazines. His novels are published in 28 languages. He lives in Dublin where he is working on his seventh novel.