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Oscar-nominated Screenwriter back on his old stomping-ground

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In a special event to début the Summer Season 2018, the cinema was pleased to welcome for a Q&A after the showing of his latest film Breathe (2017) the Lewes-based, twice-Oscar-nominated screenwriter William Nicholson OBE.

Directed by Andy Serkis and produced by Jonathan Cavendish who between them run the production company Imaginarium Productions, Breathe was a meaningful project on several levels. It was the first directorial venture for actor Serkis, critically acclaimed hitherto for his performance capture roles, while for Jonathan Cavendish it meant the fulfilment a long-cherished dream: to tell his parents’ extraordinary story and capture the ‘swashbuckling band of eccentrics’ he knew in his childhood.

With screenwriting credits including Everest, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Gladiator, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Shadowlands, William Nicholson was commissioned to write the story of Robin Cavendish who was given three months to live at the age of 28 after polio resulted in paralysis from the neck down. In defiance of all the odds and with the help of his devoted wife Diana Blacker plus the invention of a special wheelchair with a respirator, he lived until the age of 64, travelling the world as a passionate advocate of freedoms for disabled people.

The audience on April 6th was extremely appreciative of the film – audience ratings later revealed that 77 out of an audience of 96 classed it as excellent – and listened with great interest to Mr Nicholson who shared some of the difficulties of writing biographical material, particularly when for various reasons identities need to be protected. He reported that despite initial reservations about exposure of such a personal story, Diana Cavendish had approved the finished product, apart from one of Claire Foy’s hats which she said would never have worn herself!

Although critical reception of the film was very good, it seems that it did not fare as well at the box office as hoped. Mr Nicholson reflected that this may have been because The Theory of Everything (2014) starring Eddie Redmayne as theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking had captured the market in portrayal of disability; perhaps also because audiences can experience films featuring disability as ‘a bit of a downer’.  He was hopeful nonetheless that the film’s strong advocacy of the rights of disabled people to live full and active lives might one day ensure that it ‘came into its own.’

Finally, we were fascinated to hear that Mr Nicholson’s project, his second directorial venture, will be filmed here in Seaford, where he spent his early childhood years. A screen-adaptation of his own Tony-nominated play The Retreat From Moscow which ran on Broadway in 2003 with Eileen Atkins, John Lithgow and Ben Chaplin, the film titled Hope Gap will star Annette Bening, Bill Nighy and Josh O’Connor.

“With such actors I feel I can’t go wrong. I haven’t directed since ‘Firelight’, nearly twenty years ago, a film I’ve always been proud of, but my experience of the distribution process (managed by Harvey Weinstein) was so bad that it’s taken me till now to return to directing. I loved shooting it and editing it. I hated all that followed.

This time will be different. I have my old friend David Thompson as producer, and together we’re putting together a fine team. We shoot from late June to mid-August. The finished result will be out some time next year.”

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