England is mine: the birth of an artist
Rêves de rock à Manchester.
Au cinéma le 7 février, England is mine raconte la jeunesse du chanteur Morrissey, avant la gloire de son groupe de rock légendaire, les Smiths. Le réalisateur nous parle de ce film sensible et très personnel, qui nous plonge dans le Manchester des années 1970.
Vocable: The film is about Morrissey before his success with The Smiths. Why did you focus on that particular moment? Mark Gill: I think that period of his life was just more interesting: trying to find your way in the world when you don’t feel like you belong somewhere: that’s a universal story. How do you cope with those things? Morrissey found a way to try and funnel all that loneliness and isolation and depression into his music. I grew up not far from where Morrissey lived in Manchester, so I knew
the area, and just because I’d been a young man myself, who had a dream to do something with his life, I felt it was a story that I could tell.
2. Vocable: What’s your relationship, your connection with The Smiths? Mark: I discovered The Smiths when I was a teenager. For many people around the world, their music spoke to you, about your life, in a way that other music wasn't doing. It’s important for young people to discover something that shows them that they’re not quite alone. When you’re young, everything feels like it’s only you, but all of a sudden you hear this voice that’s articulating the same feelings brilliantly, and you get that sense of community. At that period, Manchester was a really depressing place, and yet here’s this band making music, which celebrates that ordinariness. As a result of that, Manchester suddenly got a lot of money invested, and the city changed. I wouldn’t say always for the better, because I think it’s lost some of that creative energy; it’s become very much like everywhere else: very gentrified and it’s lost some of that attitude that it had. But then again, times are different now. Back then, there was no real art scene, no film industry or TV industry like there was in London. Whereas now, Manchester is a huge TV media city place and very much a digital city. The architecture has changed and it’s more cosmopolitan than it used to be.
4. Vocable: Is England is Mine a tribute? A love letter to The Smiths? Mark: I did say at one point it was a love letter to Manchester and Morrissey, and in a sense, maybe that is still true. It certainly wasn't a tribute. If you wanted to do a tribute, you’d make a film about The Smiths. I think it’s very hard to try and capture the magic of
creation on screen. Whereas the birth of an artist, that struggle to become something in the world, is much more interesting.
5. Vocable: It’s the women around him who seem to give him strength… Mark: That was really important to write women that aren’t just props; they actually have their own opinions and lives and ambitions. His mother is very, very perceptive, a very strong Irish woman, from a very big matriarchal family. If you’re a young man and you’re struggling, then you do turn to women, especially in Manchester in that period; you wouldn’t have turned to your male friends for fear of ridicule… That’s the great thing that Morrissey and The Smiths did: they allowed men, particularly people like me who grew up in a very working class area, to access their feminine side; it was ok to read poetry; it was ok to read Oscar Wilde. Suddenly you thought: ‘I don’t have to be an alpha male 24 hours a day because it’s really tiring.’ 6. Vocable: What material did you use for the film? Mark: We did a lot of research, reading all the old interviews that he did. It painted a picture very quickly for us, and then also the music, the lyrics are really good. They’re a really good portal to his headspace. And obviously, I talked to people who knew him. We became a very good friend of Billy, in the film Billy Duffy, he helped us; he was a consultant on the film.
7. Vocable: How did you choose Jack Lowden, who plays Morrissey in the film? What’s his background? Mark: He’s from the Scottish Borders and he hadn’t done a great deal when we cast him. He just really stood out, not only as an actor, but as a person, as a human being. I cast him in 2015 and we shot the film a year later. During the filming, he went and auditioned for Dunkirk at some point; he was a great discovery really.
8. Vocable: There’s a lot of music in the film: The New York Dolls, classical music, etc… but none of The Smiths? Why? Mark: Obviously, The Smiths music didn’t exist at that time, so it would have felt clumsy to try and include it. I was more interested in the music which helped shape him and would shape The Smiths. I worked quite hard to choose pieces of music which narratively felt right. It has more to do with the things that influenced him as a young person, like any of us, you know… If I was making a film about my life - God forbid - there would be Smiths songs in my life, for example! 9. Vocable: Are you a musician yourself? Emilie: Yes, that was my first career. I did all the things like TV and festivals and tours and made records; it was a good time but I just wanted to do something else. But it comes in handy when you need a piece of music and rather than try and explain it to somebody, you can just go and do it. So the bit at the end of the film, that guitar piece, those are actually my hands playing the music. It’s a director’s cameo. 10. Vocable: What would you say to the younger generations - who may not know Morrissey and The Smiths - to make them want to see the film? Mark: It’s a film about ambition; about trying to make something out of your life when you don’t feel like you belong somewhere. And I think everybody’s felt like that at some point. And the film has got a very British sense of humour: it’s a very beautiful and tender and very quiet film, which shows what it can be like to struggle as a teenage person and try and find your way in the world. If you go in expecting a film about The Smiths, you’re going to be disappointed. If you go in wanting to watch a film about the birth of an artist and mental health, it has a lot to say.
'It’s a film about ambition; about trying to make something out of your life'
Jack Lowden (Morrissey) with Jessica Brown Findlay.
Jack Lowden, left, as Morrissey and Laurie Kynaston as future Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr in England is Mine