London to Brighton in just 85 minutes

As London to Brighton takes audiences by storm, Jennie Kermode catches up with director Paul Andrew Williams in Glasgow

by Jennie Kermode

Following 24 hours in the lives of a London prostitute and the 12-year-old girl she is trying to protect, London To Brighton is a tough British thriller set in a grisly underworld where violence - and even murder - are part of everyday life. Yet director Paul Andrew Williams never set out to make a crime film. "It's just a story about these characters," he protests. "But the minute you have a character who's from London and he's got a gun, everybody decides it's a crime thriller." Then again, he admits, that may be a good thing in some ways, helping to draw in bigger audiences. "If we said it was this paedophile movie with these two girls in it, nobody would want to see it."

What marks out Williams' approach to his difficult subject matter is the intensity with which he has focused on developing his characters, starting with the girls, who are never mere ciphers as victims. Critics have applauded the performance given by schoolgirl Georgia Groome as Joanne, her first film role, but Williams reveals that he almost turned her away. "She looked perfect" he explains "but she just didn't read it right. Later I thought about it and we called her back. We were down to just six girls then and we did some recalls and she did that scene... where she has to burst into tears. And it worked."

Easy going and relaxed in front of an audience, Williams could easily give the impression of being an old hand, but in fact London to Brighton is his first full length film and even his previous shorts were made "when me and my friends were just sitting about in someone's living room and we had this idea and decided to do it."

He raised the £80,000 budget by "borrowing from a friend" - concerned about maintaining the integrity of his idea, he "didn't want to go anywhere near the Film Council. I didn't want lots of people changing things for reasons that had nothing to do with the script." Embarrassed about using the word 'vision', he remains stubbornly down-to-Earth, but is clearly passionate about his film, and adds "None of us have been paid yet. Not even the actors have been paid. So the only way we're going to get any money is if you tell all your friends to go and see this film."

The good news for Williams is that London To Brighton has so far received good reviews and seems to be pulling the punters in, despite its low budget and the fact that he wrote it in just four days. "I started writing about seven years ago" he says "and I wrote this script and I thought it was amazing. It wasn't even formatted properly. It was in Word. I sent it to everyone."

Having learned about rejection the hard way, he kept at it, though he doesn't have many good things to say now about his early work. What he has learned is that "the best ones are the ones I write really quickly, where it just works." Despite all this effort, he admits that "I don't like writing really. It's a means to an end. I really enjoy directing."

Williams is entirely self-taught. "I never went to film school or any of that. I don't read books about film... I got this 25-word pitch: 'Two girls on the run. One guy with a gun.'" He laughs, not exactly serious. "I just went to this guy and I said 'I've got this idea. Will you give me some money to make a film?' And it was basically just him and his friends putting in a grand here and two grand there. But he told me that these guys would put that sort of money on a horse, so not to worry about it too much. That said, although they'd put it on a horse, when they make an investment they're really strict about it... they didn't get that rich being stupid."

So, if London To Brighton does prove to be a success, what are Williams' plans for the future. "I'm working on a couple of films at the moment," he says, "but they've been through development hell." He's also starting to receive scripts by other people and says that he is open to the possibility of adapting someone else's work. Whatever it is, you can guarantee that, when he's ready, he won't let anything get in his way.

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