Otto Bathurst directs Eve Hewson (Bono’s daughter) in a new take on Robin Hood, writes Esther McCarthy.
When Otto Bathurst directed the first three episodes of a gritty period thriller, he was excited about the script — but couldn’t have anticipated what a sensation it would become.
That series was Peaky Blinders, which has given Cork actor Cillian Murphy one of the best roles of his career, that of the ruthless and complex Tommy Shelby.
“We had no idea. I mean, we knew it was good, but we made it for very little money,” he says of that time. “We really pushed the boat out, we went for it big time and tried to do something genuinely brave and original.”
He credits leading star Murphy as key to its success. “Peaky Blinders depends so heavily on Cillian. If you’re going to have a character who is this brooding powerhouse of a man, that is a really tough thing to do.
There’s no way it would have been anything that it is if it hadn’t been for Cillian.
“He is the lynch of the whole thing, and to make a character like Tommy Shelby as unavoidably fascinating despite his moral repugnancy is quite an achievement. He’s a very, very intelligent, engaged and collaborative actor. I’m so thrilled for him that it’s become what it’s become. He, more than almost anybody, has put so much work and so much love into that show.”
Bathurst has been involved in many interesting TV projects — he also directed the first episode of Black Mirror, ‘The National Anthem’, in which the UK prime minister has sex with a pig. Peaky Blinders felt fresh from the start, with its contemporary soundtrack and modern edge, and now Bathurst is bringing a similar sensibility to Robin Hood.
Featuring costumes with a futuristic edge, diversity of characters and Nottingham as a thriving metropolis, it’s certainly not a traditional take on the Robin Hood story, and that’s precisely why he got on board.
“We did a lot of thinking about who Robin Hood was and why this guy had become such a legend for so long,” says Bathurst.
“If I’m going to re-tell this story and we’re going to make it resonate with a modern audience, rather than it being a pretty picture postcard reverent look back in time, I wanted to make it ring true.
“I have this weird hate of most period filmmaking. For me, I want to see a story that actually has purpose and resonance to me in my life now, rather than just looking back for the sake of looking back. I also never quite understand why filmmakers tend to change the way they make a film dependent on the film you’re making. Your audience is a 21st-century audience, whether you’re telling a story about cavemen or aliens.”
Bathurst admits to being surprised by how upset some people have been that the film messes with the legend.
“This is a story that’s been told for over 600 years — there is no true or correct version of Robin Hood. For me the point of the film is that now more than ever we need Robin Hood. He stood up against oppression, he stood up against corruption and he was prepared to say no, he was prepared to fight for the people.
“Now that’s a pretty resonant story no matter what decade or era or century you come from. Also that sort of anachronistic feel to it wakes me up and gets me involved.
“I think what’s really cool about Robin Hood is he’s not a superhero, he’s just an everyman. Through the wisdom and love of this amazing woman he starts to see the bigger picture - that it’s our responsibility to stand up and say no, to fight for truth and claim the truth and not just go along with the system.
"That’s all really interesting stuff I think, and what’s cool about the Robin Hood story, and why it’s been a story that’s lasted for so long is that people connect with it.”
Starring Aaron Egerton as the title character, Irish actress Eve Hewson (daughter of Bono) as Marian and a cast including Jamie Foxx and Jamie Dornan, it also brings back the potent power of the bow and arrow in the film’s many action scenes.
“Here’s the thing — if you are in the 12th century, then a bow and arrow is the most terrifying weapon in the world,” says Bathurst. “If you’re in the 12th century and you’re riding a horse, that is a car. I really wanted to make the horse chases feel like car chases - we wanted to make it feel like Fast and Furious on horses. I wanted to make the bow and arrow fights feel like gunfights.”
The movie features Dubliner Eve Hewson in what is her most prolific film role yet, and Bathurst was impressed with the rising star and daughter of Bono and Ali.
“Eve’s was the one part that I probably felt the most strongly about,” he says.
“To do all that we needed somebody who was super strong, independent and super modern as well. That is Eve Hewson. She is all that. She is, I think, astonishing to look at in a really beautiful, interesting way. She’s got real depth to her. You want to find out more about her and that’s quite hard to find, actually.”
The film is set up for a sequel if this one proves to do well at the box office and Bathurst says if it goes ahead, it will focus on Robin’s rival in love and politics, played by Jamie Dornan.
It’s the latest step in what has been a varied and interested career for the English film-maker, who worked his way up through the industry ranks.
“I studied as a civil engineer, bailed out of university after one term and thought: ‘My God what am I going to do? I have to get a job’. And I became a teaboy at a post-production house. I’ve got no family or friends in the industry at all. I had to get a job, and I love my job. I became a runner and just worked my way up through the whole thing and did pretty much every job on the ladder on the way up.”
Robin Hood is in cinemas on Friday.