Jim Broadbent – The Sense of an Ending

March 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the independent drama “The Sense of an Ending,” Academy Award-winning actor Jim Broadbent (“Iris”) stars as Tony Webster, a man who must confront his past when the mother of a former lover dies and leaves him a mysterious journal that changes the course of his life. The film, which is directed by Indian filmmaker Ritesh Batra (“The Lunchbox”), is adapted from the 2011 novel of the same name by British author Julian Barnes.

During an interview with Broadbent, 67, who is known for such films as “Moulin Rouge!,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” and the “Bridget Jones” franchise, we talked about the similarities of his newest film with the theater, and what message about confronting one’s past he would like people to take from the theater. Broadbent also spoke about his experience starring in Season 7 of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which premieres this summer.

I know you have a fondness for the theater. Is a film like “The Sense of an Ending”—with its intimate scenes and smaller production—as close of a moviemaking experience you can get to working on the stage?

That never occurred to me. [The film] is very intimate and very quiet. It’s very contained, really. A lot of that is because my character Tony Webster is at home on his own. I think that would make for great theater, certainly in terms of having great one-to-one scenes.

Is there a specific message you would like audiences to take from this film about confronting their past and finding closure?

I love the whole theme of the film. It’s about history and about the stories we tell ourselves and how unreliable they are.  In a way, it invites us to think about and confront our past and learn from it. [Tony] is a character that is divorced and is living on his own, but he is quite pleased with himself—quite self-satisfied. He thinks he’s got it all sorted and then he gets this legacy from his first love’s mother. It throws all his memories of what he thought he was and how he behaved as a young man into turmoil. He has to readdress things. I think anyone watching the film—in some ways—will start thinking about their own past and how they’ve got to where they are. I think it’s quite a profound piece of writing.

You’ve worked in the film industry for almost 50 years. How do you choose projects these days? Do you look at somebody like director Ritesh Batra and decide you want to work with him because you like his past work, in this case “The Lunchbox?”

Very much, yes. I thought “The Lunchbox” was fantastic. It never occurred to me that I would get to work with him. Certainly, when I knew he was working on the film, I was absolutely delighted. He’s a wonderful director. Some people ask, “Are you happy to work with a director who has only made one film before?” You would never have guessed he’s only directed one other film. He so sure, competent, very quiet and very precise. He cares mentally about the filmmaking. He was a delight to work with. He is a very wise director.

You’re going to be in a very popular pop culture phenomenon soon when you star in Season 7 of “Game of Thrones.” How do you feel knowing you’re going to be a part of something that millions of people watch and invest their time in every week?

Yes, I’ve made my contribution and the next season is coming up. It was fascinating to work on such an extraordinary and iconic production. I suppose it’s similar in a way to coming in and doing what I did in “Harry Potter.” Every part of the production was so impressive. I was fascinated by how it all worked. I think it’s going to be very exciting. My contribution, I don’t know, but it certainly is looking great.

Since starting your career in the 1970s, what have you learned about yourself as an actor over the years?

I think from the word go I knew it would be good for me to spread my net very wide and try a lot of different things. I’m always looking for the job I haven’t done before—something new. That has served me well since I’m recognized for all sorts of different things. It’s always a learning experience. My lesson for myself: always look out for something where you’ll learn something you haven’t done before. It’s an ongoing process of learning something about myself inevitably along the line.

The Iron Lady

January 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach
Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd (“Mamma Mia!”)
Written by: Abi Morgan (“Shame”)

Call it Oscar grubbing if you want, but it’s not Meryl Streep’s fault that she’s so damn talented. Well, technically, it kind of is.

Still, when it was announced Streep would play former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a film that would cover the British politician’s life and career, it was almost guaranteed she would be a shoe-in for a record 17th Academy Award nomination unless something disastrous happened along the way. As Streep performances go, you can’t do much better than what she does with “The Iron Lady.” As biopics go, however, the film feels like someone is giving a history lesson using a set of sketchy CliffsNotes. While it certainly has the opportunity to be an inspirational take on one woman’s groundbreaking contribution to a nation, it instead transforms Thatcher into a tragic character with limited emotional trajectory.

While Streep’s presence makes a deep impression on the acting front, Thatcher’s does not from a narrative aspect. Like Leonardo DiCaprio in “J. Edgar” earlier this awards season, the mammoth-sized lead role overshadows what turns out to be a well-intended and compassionate — but ultimately misguided and uninspired — reflection on such an influential individual. Constructed through flashbacks, some of which come from the frail mind of Thatcher (who is introduced to audiences as a senile old lady advised not to leave her house alone anymore), it’s difficult to see why screenwriter Abi Morgan (“Shame”) makes these twilight years the base of the script. Thatcher constantly forgets she is no longer prime minister and hallucinates that her deceased husband Denis (Jim Broadbent) is not only alive and well but just as charming as he was when she first met him after graduating from Oxford. Alexandra Roach plays the young, opinionated Thatcher to a tee.

As the story continues through Thatcher’s rise through Parliament from Education Secretary to Leader of the Opposition, director Phyllida Lloyd (“Mamma Mia!”) and Morgan are not able to grasp the larger-than-life events and concepts that mark Thatcher’s legacy. Reference to the Falklands War in 1982 is reduced to stock footage and a couple of scenes featuring Thatcher in a war room possibly playing Stratego.

Despite the flaws in the script, Streep, as in her performance as Julia Child in 2009’s “Julie & Julia,” immerses herself inside her character with attention paid to the faintest of details. It’s scary how deeply Streep melds into Thatcher. Unfortunately, she’s really the only major asset here.

Another Year

February 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville
Directed by: Mike Leigh (“Happy-Go-Lucky”)
Written by: Mike Leigh (“Happy-Go-Lucky”)

It’s always a breath of fresh air when a filmmaker offers audiences a glimpse into the lives of fictional characters who could easily be everyday people. There’s no glitz or glamour in the way 7-time Academy Award-nominated director/writer Mike Leigh presents his intimate stories, but it’s in his own quiet style and that he creates fascinating and realistic situations with such precision and craft.

In “Another Year,” which recently earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, Leigh’s simple and bittersweet narrative wears its heart on its sleeve. The emotional, character-based drama stars Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen as happily married Brits Tom and Gerri, one of the most well-matched couples your ever likely to meet on screen or in real life. Tom and Gerri are content, comfortable, and most importantly, in love.

While their lives are as pleasant as can be, Tom and Gerri are surrounded by friends and family that haven’t quite figured where to find their own happiness. The couple nurtures them as much as possible, but there is only so much someone can do before third-party misery begins to affect everything it comes into contact with.

In a scene-stealing role, Lesley Manville plays Gerri’s coworker and friend Mary, a high-strung, desperate, and deeply depressed middle-aged woman who feel time has rudely passed her by. The emotional connection she has with Tom and Gerri when she visits their quaint home is one of friendship and neediness. As much as she rambles and drinks, Tom and Gerri are more than hospitable to her and never let her neuroticism get in the way of their ability to be good company.

But as the seasons pass during this ordinary year, Tom and Gerri find themselves brimming with people who need their attention. Their son Joe (Oliver Maltman) has found a girlfriend they both adore and Tom’s brother Ronnie (David Bradley) is left helpless when he loses his wife. It becomes only a matter of time before Tom and Gerri must prioritize their life and make difficult decisions about who they can let into their joyful little world without feeling overworked.

“Another Year” is filled with sadness, but not in a way that’s going to drag audiences down. Leigh doesn’t offer much hope at the end, but instead gets his richly-written characters to a point where they can move onto the next year knowing where they stand with one another. It’s a message that most affable people won’t care for (“Life’s not always kind”), but one that is true nonetheless.

The Damned United

December 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Michael Sheen, Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall
Directed by: Tom Hooper (TV’s “John Adams” miniseries)
Written by: Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon”)

It’s one thing to see a sports obsession coming from rowdy fans in the stands of a soccer match, but it’s an entirely different story when the mania is coming straight from the sidelines in unhealthy doses. In “The Damned United,” two-time Oscar nominated screenwriter Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen”) adapts author David Peace’s nonfiction novel about English soccer coach Brian Clough and his desire to prove his worth in the professional English football league no matter how many enemies he makes.

Brian (Michael Sheen) has always been a cocky son of a gun, but when he gets the opportunity to coach the top-rated soccer team Leeds United after he leads a once-lowly second division soccer club out from the bottom barrel, his claws come out. The problem is, up until actually accepting the offer to coach Leeds, Brian was a strong critic of the championship team and their iconic longtime coach Don Revie (Colm Meaney). Not only does Brian hold a grudge with Don for an unintentional snub in the past, he publicly voices that he thinks the team only wins championships because they cheat. When he gets to Leeds, he intends to bring “good, clean, attractive football” to the area.

It won’t be as easy as it sounds, however. The players aren’t thrilled that one of their biggest detractors is now their coach and is trying to change the way they play the game. Brian has also never coached a team without his scout and assistant Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall), who is angry with his friend for sticking his foot in his mouth one too many times. His outspokenness is one of the reasons his last boss Sam Longson (Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent) never supported him when Brian would go behind his back to recruit players and act like he owned the team.

As Brian, Sheen does a masterful job turning this talented coach into a hybrid character. There are times where Brian’s sheer enthusiasm for the game is contagious. Other times, Brian’s “mad ambition,” disregard of humility, and his ongoing rivalry with Don make it hard to sympathize with him. “Fire is good,” someone tells Brian, “but sometimes fire destroys everything.”

Still, this is what the character calls for. Sheen, who also portrayed characters written by Peace in “Frost/Nixon” and “The Queen,” really accentuates the ugliness of the sports world through his personal vendetta with everyone who chooses to disagree with him and his inattention to his own faults as a human being.

Along with his performance, “The Damn United” is an engaging film that isn’t just for fans of soccer. It could have followed any other sport or other life situation and built these strong characters and themes around that and it still would have been a relatable story. Credit Morgan’s script and director Tom Hooper (“John Adams”) for crafting something that could have been ordinary into an unbeatable sports drama.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

July 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Jim Broadbent, Emma Watson
Directed by: David Yates (“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”)
Written by: Steve Kloves (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”)

The popular boy wizard continues down the mysterious road of sorcery and wonderment that has entertained fans for the last eight years in the sixth installment of the J.K. Rowling’s fantasy franchise, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Who would have guessed that Harry’s most formidable adversary in the new film would be puberty?

Yes, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has developed into a young man, and just in time. In “Half-Blood Prince,” there’s far more to fear than acne breakouts and raging hormones. The Dark Arts flourish as Harry and best friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) continue on their quest to stop the evil Lord Voldemort (seen in this film only as a gothic-looking young student).

The story begins with Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) interfering into Harry’s life outside of Hogwarts as he flirts with a café waitress and sets up an impromptu date. Harry, who now knows he is “the chosen one,” doesn’t have time to enjoy the Muggle world as much as he would like. Dumbledore whisks him off to visit retired professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) so they can try to persuade him to return to Hogwarts. There’s something Slughorn is suppressing in his memory that can help Harry understand how to defeat Voldemort.

Along with Slughorn’s secrets, Harry must contend with a trio of smoky Death Eaters, who are terrorizing both the Muggle and Wizard worlds, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), who is coming into his own and doing so by following orders of the Dark Lord himself, and, of course, the romantic high jinks that seems contagious throughout the entire school.

While romance continues to blossom occasionally between Harry and Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright), Ron and Hermione’s ambiguous relationship halts for a moment when another girl (Jessie Cave) begins to show interest in Ron. There’s no need for too many doses of love potion in the high school-like melodrama that plays out in the halls of Hogwarts. With all the heartbreak, jealousy, infatuation, and pitter-patter of youthful hearts, it’s really a treat to see there’s actual blood pumping through these characters as the story continues to unfold.

Directed by David Yates, who was also behind “Order of the Phoenix,” “Half-Blood Prince” is the most dialogue-heavy of the entire series. Yates and his screenwriting team slow down the pace considerably to uncover more of the emotional elements of everyone involved. However, there are still highly entertaining scenes comprised of impressive special effects and sprightly editing (you can’t have a “Harry Potter” movie without a weather-beaten game of Quidditch). “Half-Blood Prince” is also the funniest of the bunch.

While actual magic might be a secondary thought in Rowling’s text, “Half-Blood Prince” is a notable addition to the narrative as a whole. It all leads up nicely to the final installment, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows,” which will be released in two parts in 2010 and 2011 respectively.