Netflix signaled that they had no intention of slowing their investment in top-tier talent in the final panel of The Contenders – London, which featured four of the festival season’s most popular attractions.
In the first panel, Andreas Wiseman spoke to director David Michôd and composer Nicholas Britell about The King, which stars Timothée Chalamet as the young Henry V, who becomes King of England in the 15th century after his brother’s death. Michôd credited his co-writer Joel Edgerton, who also appears in the film as Falstaff, with inspiring him to look again at the story made famous in two of Shakespeare’s best-known history plays.
“I’ve known Joel for many years,” said Michôd. “We live two minutes’ walk from each other in Sydney and we spend a lot of time together. I didn’t know him back then, but when he was fresh out of drama school, he played Hal on stage in Henry IV and Henry V. It was a much-talked-about performance, and it was very important in his early career, as well as being a very creative experience for him.
“And when he came to me and said, ‘How do you feel about tackling Henry V, I thought, ‘That’s a terrible idea.’ But then, y’know, I was immediately drawn—as so often happens— to the challenge of doing something that I wouldn’t necessarily feel was up my alley. So then we just jumped in. We made the decision very early on to push Shakespeare aside and build our own thing.”
Joe Utichi then took to the stage to discuss The Two Popes with director Fernando Meirelles and screenwriter Anthony McCarten. A two-hander, the film depicts life inside the Vatican’s walls, as Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and the future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) try to find common ground in order to forge a new path for the Catholic Church and take the papacy forward.
A past hand at fact-based drama, McCarten had recent awards success with The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour, and
Bohemian Rhapsody, and told Utichi that he sees The Two Popes as part of that same continuum. “The challenge with any dramatization of a real event is to speculate on those moments that no one’s privy to,” he said, “and this is a constant in all the biopics I’ve done. In this case, it was, I guess, more adventurous. What I did honor is that their stated positions are well known on various subjects. They happen to be diametrically opposed on many, many issues, so it enabled a real dialectic between these two, between an ultra-conservative and a progressive. And my hope with this film is that whether you care about Catholicism or don’t, whether you’re angry at it or not, that it speaks to a more general conversation society can have between conservatives’ and progressives’ intractable positions. Can we find a common ground?”
Common ground is also the subject of Noah Baumbach’s hot fall title, Marriage Story, in which Adam Driver’s marriage to Scarlett Johannson falls spectacularly apart. Ironically, the project began as a love story, as the director told Deadline’s Peter White in front of a panel that included producer David Heyman and the film’s co-stars Laura Dern and Ray Liotta. “For a while now,” said Baumbach, “I’ve been wanting to make a love story and I just didn’t know how to find my way into it, in a way that felt electric or new to me. And, and so weirdly it was in telling the story of divorce [that I found my angle]. I’d explored that before in a different way, from the kids’ perspective in The Squid and the Whale, but this one is more from the, from the adult perspective. I found that it was an opportunity to explore marriage and love while chronicling its undoing.”
The panel closed with a surprise clip from Martin Scorsese’s true-life mob drama The Irishman, introduced by Anna Paquin, who plays Peggy, the daughter of Robert De Niro’s hitman character, Frank Sheeran. “I think Peggy, in very real way, is sort of the audience’s eyes, or conventional morality’s eyes, looking into the world that we’re telling the story of. She is literally the only person in Frank’s life that sees him for the dangerous, frightening human that he is and she isn’t just enjoying the perks of being a mobster’s kid. She’s sort of the moral compass.”
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