Alexander Mackendrick
Mike Newell

Alexander Mackendrick Lecture


  • Tuesday October 5



Event Details

In memory of the great British film director, we re-launch the Alexander Mackendrick Lecture at Raindance.

We’re delighted to welcome Mike Newell to Raindance for this year’s Alexander Mackendrick Memorial Interview. Fred Hogge looks back at his work.

Mike Newell’s career has been nothing if not varied: “I hate doing the same thing twice.” Nor has he, with a body of work which stretches from the cobbles of Coronation Street to the sands of Persia, with weddings and mobsters, not to mention wizards, along the way.

Varied it may be, but to Newell there’s a core theme through it all. Speaking of his 2007 film version of Love In The Time Of Cholera, he said: “The character is the way into the story… Whether it’s Harry Potter or Donnie Brasco or Four Weddings, you can always say that a way of describing the story is that it’s a story of a good man in a bad jam. This is a very, very complicated form of a good man in a bad jam story. So [my choices] seem to me to be consistent. They don’t to other people, but they do to me.”

If they don’t seem consistent to other people, it’s because they’re not looking hard enough. At the core of Newell’s work, beyond a commitment to narrative and character essential to the making of good drama, lies a compassion for humanity and human frailty. Think of Al Pacino’s not-so-bright mobster in Donnie Brasco. Or Miranda Richardson’s Ruth Ellis in Dance With A Stranger, always refusing to wear her glasses as she heads blindly into the affair which will inevitably lead her to murder. It’s this care for the people, the characters of his films that makes Newell, as producer David Heyman says, makes him one of the great directors of actors.

Like those other so-called eclectic directors, Sidney Lumet, Howard Hawks, Mackendrick himself, Newell works across genres. If that creates the impression that he’s not a specialist of some kind, it’s only because we’re not paying attention. Because Newell is a specialist in storytelling.

“I naturally gravitate towards character drama and I naturally gravitate towards characters who get into the sort of trouble that everyday people will find… You don't necessarily have to have kings and queens and angels and devils at the center of everything. It's what makes Arthur Miller, Clifford Odets and Eugene O'Neil tick. It's the drama of real people...”

It’s the sort of a statement that would have sat well with Mackendrick, a man whose films where also driven by characters, every day women and men stuck in increasingly bad jams.

Both Newell and Mackendrick are directors who, as outsiders, showed us facets of New York – that most photographed of cities – that we hadn’t seen before. Both of them handle drama and comedy with equal aplomb. And both realise instinctively that, in a feature length narrative, a comedy relies on proper dramatic underpinnings, on real story.

Speaking recently of Four Weddings And A Funeral, arguably the most famous film of Newell’s career, screenwriter Richard Curtis said: “I think I had a very lucky break when we asked Mike Newell to do it. Mike is a very serious, beautiful person, a wonderful director. What he succeeded in doing was to hide the fact that the original script read much more like a series of sketches.”

This is Newell’s gift, to look into a story and to see, absolutely, what it is — to see the drama in Four Weddings, the thriller in Harry Potter, the wildlife film in Donnie Brasco — and to deliver again and again, compelling, exciting, compassionate movies. And how does he do it? As he said in interview two years ago: “ The greatest directors confuse style with content. But if you have to choose, choose content every time.”

Selected Filmography
2010    Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time
2007    Love In The Time Of Cholera
2005    Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
2003    Mona Lisa Smile
1999    Pushing Tin
1997    Donnie Brasco
1995    An Awfully Big Adventure
1994    Four Weddings And A Funeral
1992    Into The West
1992    Enchanted April
1988    Soursweet
1987    Amazing Grace And Chuck
1985    The Good Father
1985    Dance With A Stranger
1981    Bad Blood
1980    The Awakening
1976    The Man In The Iron Mask (TV)