23 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
Directors Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor discuss Baltimore
21 Mar 2024 : Luke Shanahan
We spoke with directors Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor about their latest film, Baltimore. The film releases in Irish cinemas this Friday, March 22nd.

Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor have been directing films together for nearly two decades, with their creative partnership The Desperate Optimists (also the name of their production company) beginning in theatre in 1992. During this time they have co-directed six features, the most recent of which being Baltimore. The film had its World Premiere at the Telluride Film Festival last year, followed by the UK premiere at the London Film Festival.

Baltimore is based on the true story of Rose Dugdale, an English heiress who became a member of the Provisional IRA. The film is centred around a 1974 art heist led by Dugdale at Russborough House in County Wicklow, while also exploring Dugdale’s journey from wealth and privilege to political radicalisation.

Imogen Poots (Vivarium) stars as Dugdale, and is joined by a cast that includes Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (Rialto), Jack Meade (Twig), Dermot Crowley (Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi), and Lewis Brophy (Spilt Milk). Baltimore was produced by Lawlor and David Collins (My Sailor, My Love).

We sat down with directors Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor to discuss the roots of this project in previous films The Future Tense and Further Beyond, Baltimore’s unique structure, and shooting the film in 25 days.

Dugdale passed away this week on Monday, March 18th, after this interview took place.

IFTN: This is your first time adapting a true story into a drama, what was that experience like and what was your introduction to Rose Dugdale’s story?

JOE: “Well, we started that incursion into her life for a documentary that we made previous to this, called The Future Tense. There's a series of narratives in that essay film, one of which is her story. It was a kind of speculative or aesthetic inquiry during the essay film itself, but afterwards we were thinking it would be interesting to see how this would translate into an actual screenplay.”

“Sometimes you might develop a project to go so far, and you put it away because it's not really going to be the stuff of a film, but this gathered a certain kind of power. So we had this kind of long development, and we could get into the material. That was really helpful. Doing that kind of research is always a good primer to developing a screenplay that will eventually become a film, if all things go well.”

CHRISTINE: “We were making the documentary and Joe came across the story. He had a vague memory of that story from when he was younger. I didn't. It seemed almost hard to believe that this English heiress gave away all her money and joined a rogue act of service unit attached to the IRA and did this crazy thing. You could barely have made it up.”

IFTN: And you had shot in Russborough House for Further Beyond as well?

CHRISTINE: “We did. And that's why we went back to Russborough House at the beginning of the development process for The Future Tense. It was like a passing of the baton, we saw them as two films that were very strongly related to each other. So we picked up from where some of the elements of Further Beyond left off, which is why we went back to Russborough House, which is how Joe found the story.”

“Rose Dugdale presented us with this great opportunity to go to locations around Ireland, which was part of the endeavour of The Future Tense to try and look for an alternative place in Ireland to live post-Brexit. But as we hung out in her world, she became more and more of a fascinating character to us, so it just became this inevitable thing that we couldn't resist trying to imagine, making a film about this historical character.”

IFTN: What were the qualities of Imogen Poots that you felt made her right to capture Rose Dugdale at that point in her life?

JOE: “There’s something about Rose Dugdale which is posh, and a little wild, or as Imogen would say, she's really punk. And Imogen strikes us from our backgrounds from Finglas as also being a bit posh - she won’t mind us saying that! - and wild, she’s got a real punk spirit to her. She's also very charming, and apparently Dugdale was incredibly charismatic and charming. When she was at Oxford, people would gravitate towards her. So I imagine she was very funny, like Imogen. She's quite refined, but a real free spirit as well.”

“Imogen is always great, even in roles in which she’s not got the top billing like The Father. What she always brings to her performances is really distinctive.”

IFTN: I’m really curious about the non-linear structure of this film, you’ve cited paintings (triptychs) as an influence. Could you tell me a bit about that?

JOE: “Yeah, it's true. It was in the script, it wasn't like something we found in the edit. That was very, very early on. First draft. It's about paintings. It’s about visual art. It feels right that the structure will be a triptych, and like a triptych each panel has got a frame. It's hard. It's abrasive. There's no segwaying gently from one thing to another. You're looking at that, then you're looking at that. You can't look at two things at the same time. Watching the film, like a painting, you've got to hold three timelines in your head and let them infect each other.”

CHRISTINE: “We know that there's a genre element to the film with the heist. Sometimes there’s a real pull to just go with the genre, stay with the heist. You know, all this forward momentum and propulsion. But actually, we never wanted that. We're much more interested in her character, and for it to be a character study.”

“So the going back and forth, we know that it's a little bit jarring, but as Joe said it’s been there from the very, very beginning. We've worked with it in different ways. We had intertitles in the script to orientate, then we had them in the edit, then decided let’s just get rid of most of them. Let's just move back and forth.”

IFTN: You shot this in 25 days. The film spans different decades and many different locations, how did you go about bringing these worlds to life in such a short space of time?

CHRISTINE: “There's where you really need your heroes and your champions, your people to step up under challenging circumstances. We didn't have a very big prep, and we knew that we're asking a huge amount from people, such as John Hand who did the production design, Maeve Patterson who did the costume, Lindsey Herron who did the hair and Madonna Bambino who did the makeup. It's a big challenge, using the small budget we had to make all of those worlds convincing, but we think that they did a great job with what they had to work with.”

“We were also very keen to get the extras right. On our assistant director team, we had somebody specifically on board to look for the right extras [Shane Whisker], because sometimes a scene can be let down because you put a call out for extras, and then some anonymous group of people arrive, and some of them work and some of them don't.

“So he worked for the entirety of the prep, making sure that we could populate the scenes. Our locations team was great as well. You just need people to step up, and we got incredibly lucky because it was a very tough and demanding shoot.”

“Then of course, there’s our DoP who we've worked with before, Tom Comerford. He's really great to work with, he's very interested in cinema - you'd hope that that's the case but you can't take it for granted! Just because somebody's working on film, doesn't mean they care about cinema! Tom really, really cares about everything. Every scene, every frame.”

“We knew we were juggling a lot of balls and asking a lot of people, but I think that's what it's about, it's a collaborative art form. You need people, our cast were really good, so you pull all those things together, and leave space for people to get on with it and to bring their best to the table… I think that's definitely reflected on the screen. We got a lot on screen considering the budget that we were working with.”

IFTN: Tonight is the Irish premiere. Are you looking forward to seeing how Irish audiences react to the film? Do you think Irish audiences will respond differently to the film, compared to international or UK audiences, given the subject matter?

JOE: “I think it will have a different reaction. I don't know why, I can't pin it down. The screenings in London, when we were at London Film Festival, were different to the ones in America. Maybe it was to do with the humour, and there was an element where things were a little bit spikier. A few people were a bit more angry about the film. Somebody made a comment afterwards in the Daily Mail, saying it was a dangerous film! That wouldn't have happened in America.”

CHRISTINE: “When you read that article, what they were talking about was that book, the book that's come out, they really weren't talking about our film.”

JOE: “In the last two years, two books came out about Rose Dugdale.”

CHRISTINE: “When we started writing the script there was very little available for research.”

JOE: “So there’s something in the air, but we were the first!”

“I’m hoping that people will enjoy the ride, and engage with the film in how it's being presented. Not as an action heist thriller biopic, but something with those elements that's slightly more reflective.”

Baltimore releases in Irish cinemas on Friday, March 22nd.

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