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‘Love & Friendship’ writer/director Whit Stillman: “Ireland is the best place I have ever shot a film”
26 May 2016 : Seán Brosnan
‘Love & Friendship’ is in cinemas May 27th
With Irish film ‘Love & Friendship’ hitting cinemas on May 27th, IFTN catches up with writer and director Whit Stillman.

‘Love & Friendship’ made its’ premiere at Sundance earlier this year with The Guardian, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter all praising the film, in particular Kate Beckinsale’s lead performance and Whit Stillman’s direction. Indeed, the level of enthusiasm for the film was so high that up until last week, the popular review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes had collected 100% of positive reviews – an extremely rare feat for any film.

“I know, I know, it’s only 99% now!”, laughs Stillman, who received an Oscar nomination in 1991 for writing the comedy drama ‘Metropolitan’.“I haven’t read the bad review but apparently the guy who wrote it said I only make films about white people or something. He obviously wasn’t around when I was trying desperately to make films about black Jamaicans but the industry doesn’t want me to do that [laughs].”

Doing the damn near impossible, Stillman not only adapted Jane Austen’s lauded novella but also made it one of the more entertaining comedy of manners over the past few years. But the US director states that adapting Jane Austen wasn’t the main issue but adapting the form her novella came in.

“The epistolary form is what caused the most problems when adapting this film, believe it or not”, says Stillman, who made ‘Love & Friendship on a reported budget of €2.6 million. “You only have people’s voices in the form of letters and the nature of the form is that these people are far apart. So, we needed people together and at least within earshot of one another and we had to invent some characters and expand on others to make that possible.”

One character expanded on to great comic effect was Sir James Edward Martin, played by British actor Tom Bennett.

“I was never really convinced of the material I wrote but then this actor Tom Bennett made it really funny and I actually started getting better ideas once he was on the set. It was an extraordinary experience and one I have never experienced before.”

The character of Martin resonated so well with the audience and with Stillman himself that he made his nephew the narrator of the accompanying ‘Love & Friendship’ novel, someone he says is “less dim but a lot more pretentious”.

Stillman has been in development of ‘Love & Friendship’ for years and his undertaking of regular trips to Dublin to visit his daughter in Trinity College only cemented his desire to shoot a period piece here.

“I already knew this was a good place to shoot because my daughter studied law and practised as a solicitor here”, says Stillman. “So, I knew Ireland would be perfect for an 18th century shoot. The Irish Film Board were fantastic also, they knew I was in town and in July 2010, they had a location scout pick me up at the airport and show me around which kind of made me realise even more that Ireland would be perfect for ‘Love & Friendship’.

2010 was also the year the filmmaker met Katie Holly and Kieran J. Walsh of Blinder Films for the first time at the Galway Film Fleadh. Stillman then shot the acclaimed 2011 drama ‘Damsels in Distress’ before meeting Katie Holly again at Cannes where a deal was struck.

One of the great things about Katie is that she is like a terrier when she gets her teeth into something”, continues Stillman, who is currently working on the six part Parisian drama series ‘The Cosmopolitans’ for Amazon, based on a 26 minute pilot he wrote and directed in 2014. “She doesn’t let it go and she just kept at until we had the money to make the film.”

The film became an Irish/French/Dutch co-production between Westerly Films, Blinder Films, Chic Films, Revolver Films, Irish Film Board, Arte and the Netherlands Film Fund and shot in February and March 2015 in Westborough House and other locations in and around Dublin.

Key Irish crew were Costume Designer Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh and Production Designer Anna Rackard with Stillman stating that both were “extraordinary” while the cast included Jenn Murray (‘Brooklyn’), who yet again excelled in a small yet crucial role, and Lochlann O'Mearáin, who deftly played the handsome Lord Mannering without uttering a single word.

After shooting here for over a month but being in pre-production of the film in Ireland for many months before, what were Stillman's experiences of working in Ireland like?

“It was absolutely ideal. This is the best place I have ever shot a film, definitely the best crew I have ever worked with. Any project I could possibly shoot in Ireland in the future, I will definitely shoot them here.”

‘Love & Friendship’ hits cinemas tomorrow.

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