Jessica Brown Findlay and Felicity Jones in ALBATROSS, a film directed by Niall MacCormick. Picture copyright CinemaNX Films Three Ltd 2010. All rights reserved.
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Opened: 01/13/2012 Limited
Trailer: Click for trailer
Genre: British Comedy/Drama
Seventeen year old force-of-nature EMELIA (newcomer Jessica Brown Findlay) starts a new job at The Cliff House, a small hotel on the South Coast of England, run by the dysfunctional Fischer family. BETH FISCHER (Felicity Jones), also seventeen, is cramming for her exams in a desperate bid to escape to University. Dad JONATHAN (Sebastian Koch) is an author. Once the bright young thing of the literary establishment, he is now suffering interminable writer's block. Wife JOA (Julia Ormond) runs the hotel Jonathan bought with earnings from his first book. She resents it, him, and everyone around her as she gave up her 'promising career as an actress' for this. Her only hope is 6-year-old daughter POSY (Katie Overd) who is showing great promise as a performer herself.
Emelia has been brought up by her grandparents but has a strained relationship with her GRANDPA (Peter Vaughan). She is an aspiring writer; believing she is following in the footsteps of her great-grandfather Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle. Jonathan sees promise in Emelia and begins to tutor her, but their relationship quickly crosses the pupil-teacher line and they embark on a love affair. At the same time, Emelia and Beth strike up a surprise friendship: Emelia's free-spirit helps Beth learn to let her hair down and Emelia is inspired by Beth's determination and focus.
Secrets are revealed and relationships implode as the threads of the story collide and unravel. Can Emelia get rid of the Albatross that hangs round her neck and rewrite herself?
About the Production
The Origins of Albatross
The history of Albatross, the new coming-of-age comedy drama from CinemaNX, begins more than twenty years ago. It is 1987 and screenwriter-to-be Tamzin Rafn is a young teenager in Worthing, a quiet seaside town on England's south coast. Worthing, Tamzin reflects now, is "a really nice place to go back to, with the most amazing art deco pier. But as a teenager it was really boring." Enter Wish You Were Here, writer-director David Leland's 1987 film loosely based on the early life of Cynthia Payne, starring Emily Lloyd and, crucially, shot in part in Rafn's home town. "I was literally obsessed with that movie," Rafn recalls, "I was obsessed with Emily Lloyd." Albatross is no slavish homage - the interests and attitudes of its characters, the emphasis it places on female friendship and the manner in which its various plot strands develop, make it a very different film - but at its heart is Emelia, a girl who, like Lloyd's 'Lynda' in the earlier film, feels compelled to escape her surroundings and whose rebellious behaviour drives the story forward.
It was, of course, some time before Tamzin was ready to put that story into screenplay form. Having wanted to write from a young age, she initially attended journalism college, in the hope of forging a career in magazines. After university, although she continued to write in her spare time, she turned her attention to script development, working as a reader at BBC Films and FilmFour. She enjoyed reading other people's screenplays, but the development work proved equally valuable as a spur for her own writing. Her exposure to so many scripts, and her subsequent familiarity with "all the rules, all the beats you're supposed to hit" provided her with both the experience and the confidence she needed to tell her own stories. "I thought, 'How hard is this?' and wanted to give it a try," she explains. First up was a "big rom-com", courtesy of which she secured an agent, but for her follow-up she decided to let her own interests take the driving seat. "It wasn't optioned by anyone, it was just on spec, so I asked myself 'What would I like to see?' I like Sherlock Holmes, I like films about writers and I like films about naughty young girls.'" These diverse interests led to a variety of research, including numerous hours in The Sherlock Holmes museum. "I wrote the first draft quite quickly, because it was something I was in love with doing and I really enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes stuff. I read all of the books, I went to the Sherlock Holmes museum, I went mad - although his part is much reduced now." Unhindered by the writer's block that affects one of her main characters ("Write something else. Just keep going," is her antidote to such obstacles), Tamzin credits her speedy progress, even whilst maintaining a full time job in development, to the fact that writing is her hobby and that she and her husband, a director himself, are happy "being geeky film people. We go to the cinema on Saturday mornings, then we'll come out, we'll talk about the film and then we'll go home and work." Research aside, her teenage years remained a key influence on the crafting of both story and character. "I wanted to tell a story about growing up in a place where you're desperate to get out," she explains. "One of the things my Mum used to say to me was 'If you work hard you can do that, you can leave here', but I didn't want to do that, I wanted to be Emelia, the naughty one, because if you're naughty more fun things happen. So I took what my Mum was telling me and put that into the character of Beth and then took how I was behaving back then and put it into Emelia. I wasn't having the affair with the older man, but I used it as an ethos for how she behaves."
The brisk pace of the writing process was matched by the speed at which the finished screenplay caught the eye of CinemaNX. "I finished it in July," Tamzin recalls, "by August Marc Samuelson had phoned my agent and said he wanted to meet, and by September it was optioned, which was brilliant. Initially I worked with Josie Law, Head of Development, who was brilliant and gave some really nice notes." Having read an early draft of the screenplay, producer Adrian Sturges came to the project in spring 2009, attracted by the "opportunity to make something that was ambitious in an emotional and dramatic way but also with moments of comedy. It's the sort of film that doesn't get made often in the UK, but I love films like Squid and the Whale and Little Miss Sunshine -- there are echoes in Tamzin's writing of that thread of American Independent cinema." Alongside these influences, Sturges also shared Rafn's affection for Wish You Were Here. "That was an important film for me growing up," he recalls, "so I felt like it was picking up on something in British cinema history but with this fresh, partly American influence, too."
With Sturges on board, the search for a director began. Although the script went out to a broad sweep of talent, both he and Rafn were aware of and impressed by Niall MacCormick's work. The previous year, Sturges had made Love You More, a short film directed by Sam-Taylor Wood and starring Andrea Riseborough, who had played the young Margaret Thatcher in MacCormick's feature-length film for television, Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk To Finchley. "I'd been really impressed by Niall's Thatcher film," Sturges explains, "so he was someone that was in the mix of our discussions early on about who should direct. I also really liked the fact that he came at it from a slightly different area; he came from documentaries and was used to extracting stories from real characters, which I thought was a fresh angle on this kind of material." Rafn knew Niall through her work in development and, having caught up with his television work, was similarly keen to work with him. "I thought 'Yes - he makes things look good and he tells a good story.'" Describing Albatross as "an emotional drama first, treated in a light-hearted way," Niall remembers receiving the screenplay from his agent and "immediately liking it for those reasons". With MacCormick in place, the development process began in earnest.
The Evolution of Albatross
Aside from his television work, central to Niall's appeal was his take on the screenplay. "Originally the script focused much more on the Jonathan-Emelia relationship and certainly that's still there, but we spent a lot of time in development on Beth's character, making it more of a triangle," Adrian comments. "The relationships shift, so that you seem to be following this one path with the father, but actually the daughter's character becomes very important too. That was interesting to explore, and that was something that Niall particularly wanted to tackle in the development."
For Niall, the process was quite different to his experience in television. "With Finchley, all of the script development work had been done. In television, that's done by the writers and the producers and the executive producers, and then once they're happy with it they'll bring in a director really just to execute it. So when I took that job, the script was finished and polished and ready and I was hired when there were six weeks to go before shooting started, whereas with feature films they want the director to be more directly involved with the script development process. So I pitched how I'd do it and then I injected that twist into the mix, and worked through that with Tamzin."
Working in collaboration with Tamzin, Niall's aim was "to get the emotions working alongside the fun of the piece and not letting one win out over the other." While most key plot points and the overall structure remained unchanged, the increased emphasis on the character of Beth brought with it a greater poignancy. "The draft before Niall came on board was much more comedic," Tamzin comments. "I'd become obsessed with Emelia and wanted to find more fun things for her to do, more naughty things, more ways for her to be funny." Although she initially experienced some trepidation about the idea that "something that's been yours the whole time suddenly has other people involved in it", Tamzin notes that "having seen the film I realise it works better that way; you don't need all of that stuff, it was just me showing off." What might have been a difficult process was also made less so by the personalities involved. "Adrian's got the best sense of humour and Niall has the biggest laugh in the world, so working with the two of them was just really good fun."