Stamford Hill director explains how he lured Ciaran Hinds and Charlotte Rampling for his debut film, The Sea

Ciaran Hinds in The Sea. Picture: Karina Finegan

Ciaran Hinds in The Sea. Picture: Karina Finegan - Credit: Archant

With his first feature film now out on DVD, Stephen Brown tells Alex Bellotti why he decided to adapt John Banville’s Booker prize-winning novel.

He may have been a debut movie director, but when Stephen Brown came to work on the film adaptation of John Banville’s Booker prize-winning novel The Sea, he knew how to pick a cast.

Calling upon the lead services of Ciaran Hinds and Charlotte Rampling – alongside Natascha McElhone, Rufus Sewell, Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley in Harry Potter) and Missy Keating (daughter of popster Ronan) – the Stamford Hill resident found himself in esteemed company while shooting in Ireland, but didn’t shy away from the demanding process of bringing Banville’s story to the screen.

“We’d walk into a pub in Wexford with the cast and people would just be amazed,” says Brown. “I was just living my dream. Once we had this great cast, it was a matter of keeping to the schedule, keeping a steady hand and rehearsing well. You get on set, you walk through the scene with them, you give a few notes, then let the camera roll and let it unfold.”

Having now released The Sea on DVD after a limited theatrical run, Brown hopes it will finally reach the audience it deserves. It tells the story of Max Morden, a retired Irish art historian who returns to the seaside town where he grew up, while trying to cope with the losses of those he once loved.

Brown first read the novel around the same time it won the 2005 Booker Prize. After working for decades as a television and commercial director, he saw the book as a perfect vehicle for making his feature film debut and approached Banville in 2006 with producer Luke Roeg.

From there, Brown immediately contacted Hinds, who was performing at the National Theatre, to play the lead part, and was delighted with his contribution.

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“He’s a great and varied actor who keeps a little bit below the radar but pops up with Spielberg, pops up in Harry Potter and then pops up at the National Theatre, and he’s amazing,” says Brown of the Irish actor, most recently known for his role as Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones.

“[Charlotte Rampling] took a bit of wooing, we had to reel her in a bit but she was fantastic; she’s a great mentor. She’s someone who only does film so what she doesn’t know about it isn’t really worth knowing.”

Following a spell on the festival circuit, the film was released to mixed reviews last year; the Irish Post called it “pure cinematic poetry”, while the Guardian called it a “lugubriously literary affair”.

Some critics questioned Banville’s script, but while Brown admits “traditionally it’s a taboo” to let an author adapt his own screenplay, he says the core of the story affected him and many others on a personal level.

“It resonated for me. I’ve dealt with some of the issues that the main protagonist faces, but furthermore I just love Banville’s almost limpid, poetic prose – if prose can be poetic.

“For me, it does that, and that kind of language actually penetrates my soul as well as well as my emotions. It’s not a question of being religious, it’s just a question of going deeper somehow.”

The Sea is available now on DVD.

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