This month’s edition of Total Film magazin brings articles on The Mauritanian and The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, as well as new photos of Benedict in both productions. Check out the scans on our photo gallery:
Read the transcriptions below:
The Mauritanian | Kevin Macdonald directs the true story of a Guantanamo detainee.
From Zero Dark Thirty to The Report, Hollywood depictions of the war on terror all have one thing in common – they’re told from the American perspective. “What we’ve never seen is a man accused of terror, who’s humanised within that system,” director Kevin Macdonald tells Teasers. “This is a story of a really remarkable individual who survived incredible and horrendous treatment, and has emerged with this spirit intact.”
The individual in question is Mohamedou Ould Salahi (A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim), a Mauritanian national who was detained at Guantanamo Bay detention camp for 14 years. During this time, Salahi was subjected to dehumanising “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which he chronicled in Guantánamo Diary, a memoir written and published (in a heavily redacted form) while he was still behind bars.
Salahi’s memoir proved an invaluable resource for Macdonald, who tapped into his documentary background for the film’s gruelling detention-camp sequences. “Where we were absolutely rigorous about accuracy, because it feels so important, is in the physical environment, and the treatment he received in Guantanamo,” Macdonald explains. With records still largely classified, Salahi would describe experiences beyond those recorded in his memoir. There was only one detail Macdonald was forced to leave out.
“In reality, when Mohamedou was tortured, all the guards were wearing Star Wars masks,” Macdonald says. “There’s a great bit in the book when he describes having been beaten up, and he’s on the floor in his cell, and he hears the guards outside arguing about who gets to be Luke Skywalker! Of course, we couldn’t get permission [from Disney] to use those masks…”
The film ventures beyond the openair cages of Guantanamo in telling the parallel stories of Salahi’s defence lawyer Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster), and military prosecutor Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch) – who is seeking the death penalty at the behest of the US government. “We decided early on that we wanted to also have the perspective of the two lawyers. It’s the book ‘plus’,” Macdonald says. “The whole film is trying to say: ‘This is an amazing human story. It’s not a political story.’ And the same goes for Hollander and Couch; they’re just extraordinary, interesting individuals.”
But first and foremost, The Mauritanian is Salahi’s story, and he had some choice advice for Macdonald when it came to committing his ordeal to the screen. “He said to me, ‘I don’t want to make one of those slow, boring, European movies that you people make,’” Macdonald laughs. “‘I want this to be a Hollywood movie that people want to watch.’ So that was ringing in my ears.”
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain
Imagine Benedict Cumberbatch sporting one of his finest moustaches and surrounded by cats. Lots of cats. No, it’s not your favourite internet meme come to life, it’s a new biopic of eccentric 19th-century artist Louis Wain.
Best known for his psychedelic pictures of anthropomorphised felines, Wain was hugely influential even though he never became a household name. The film depicts the many obstacles he faced, but at its heart it’s a moving love story between the painter and his wife Emily (Claire Foy).
Just don’t expect it to be a conventional period drama. Director Will Sharpe, who won acclaim for his work on Channel 4 comedy Flowers, wanted it to be a celebration of Wain’s life that was as surreal and colourful as the art he created. “It’s a film that tries to capture the look of his pictures through the design, the performances, the dialogue, the music,” he says. “Trying to build what we call Wain’s world!”
Cumberbatch’s SunnyMarch company is co-producing the film, which was shot over nine weeks in and around London. The actor is in his element as Wain, who found solace in his furry muses as things started to fall apart. “I can’t think of anyone better,” says Sharpe. “He has such a good grasp of these psychological characters who have fast, febrile brains. I always want to embrace the messiness of humans. I really felt that Benedict was game.”
Wain’s life was sadly marred by tragedy, but Sharpe hopes that the film will be a touching reminder of what an inspirational man he was. “I had a lot of admiration for him. I want it to be an uplifting film that doesn’t shy away from the struggles that he had, but shows that he had a way through it. Love played a big part in that.”