Thursday, 14 February 2013

Q&A with Mary Henely Magill

As promised, here is my interview with Cheerful Weather for the Wedding screenwriter Mary Henely Magill!  It's a real privilege to have her here.  And don't forget, the DVD is currently out, available from Amazon and lots of other places.

Mary with director Donald Rice, on set.
(photo by Mark Tilley)
ST: For people who haven't read Julia Strachey's novel, describe it in a sentence!

MHM: I’m not good at this kind of thing at all, but I’ll give it a go … It’s a very sharp and funny and odd tale about a romance gone awry and a family on the verge of chaos.

ST: How did you discover the book?

MHM: It was given to me as a present by a very good friend.  We were both huge Persephone fans and she worked around the corner from the shop in Bloomsbury.  I was about to get married, but I don’t think my friend had read the book herself.  Dolly is not exactly the model bride-to-be.

ST: What led to you adapting it, and getting the film made?

MHM: I was looking for a small(ish) scale project to adapt and this seemed to be it.  I really didn’t know what I was doing.  I had worked in production on short films with Teun Hilte and Donald Rice, and they were involved with Cheerful Weather for the Wedding from the beginning.  Teun optioned the rights, and we always planned that Donald would direct the movie.  He edited the first few drafts of the script and eventually we wrote the script together.  Once Felicity Jones was on board, everything moved very quickly.

ST: Were there any bits of the novel which you loved, but didn't feel would work for the screen?

MHM: Yes!  My favourite thing in the book is when Dolly remembers the moment she knew Joseph had fallen in love with her.  He didn’t actually say the words.  He told her that she would “adore” a jumbly, whatever that is, but he was really saying that he adored her.  I absolutely loved this and wrote it into the script.  We wound up changing the scene completely and the whole thing was cut – which was really disheartening.  But, we replaced it with the barn dance scene, which is my favourite part of the film so it all worked out!

ST: Here's my idiosyncratic personal question, because it was about my favourite bit of the novel.... why weren't the socks emerald green?! 

MHM: I really don’t know why we changed that.  I think we liked the idea that they looked like “cat sick.”  That was just a weird thing that got lost in translation somehow.  I always laughed about the socks in the book.  In the first few versions of the script, everyone who read it would say there was way too much stuff about the socks.  

ST: Any amusing anecdotes from the set?

MHM: The crew stayed in chalets at a place called Sandy Balls (look it up, it’s real!) and that provided lots of tittering and silliness.  We also had a hilarious evening at a hotel in Salisbury which involved restaurant ineptitude that would make Fawlty Towers look like The Ritz.  But, the most amusing anecdotes from the set are far too inappropriate to share on this blog!

ST: If you had to pick a favourite line from the screenplay, what would it be?

MHM: Yikes.  I really like when Kitty says that she doesn’t want the boy who looks like he has rabies.  I also like it when Mrs. Whitstable says that Dolly is beautiful, and then announces that she (Mrs. W) has lost her eyesight.  This was not in the book, although almost all the rest of Mrs. Whitstable’s lines were.  I actually took it from an aged great aunt of mine who said nearly the same thing to me when I visited her in Greece when I was 18.

ST: Which other books would you like to adapt, in an ideal world?

MHM: I could go on and on with this one, but here are the first three that come to mind:
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Timothy and Two Witches by Margaret Storey

ST: And the question I ask everyone... what are you reading at the moment?

MHM: I’m attempting to read Middlemarch for the third time.  First two attempts ended in failure.  I think I hate it.  I feel like a complete philistine for saying that, but I am really struggling to get through it.  Pathetic!  I also just re-read The Go-Between, which I think is absolutely brilliant.

Thanks, Mary!  (And, by the way, I've never got beyond the first 100 pages of Middlemarch...)


  1. Great interview Simon! It sounds like the adaptation is very different than the book (barn dance?), but que sera, sera. I will see if I can get my hands on the DVD. I am curious.

    I haven't read Timothy and Two Witches, but I have read The Good Soldier and The Daughter of Time and both seem like they would also be difficult to adapt to screen...neither have a lot of "action" in them. It seems that Mary Henley Magill likes a challenge!

    1. Thanks Ruth! I'd definitely advise getting hold of the DVD. Some people seemed very upset about the barn dance, but I thought it worked pretty well!

  2. I haven't read the book or seen the film but I will, eventually. Nice interview anyway, which has certainly made eventually come a bit sooner. I like Middlemarch but so what if you don't? Life's too short to struggle with books you are not enjoying. But I am very happy to see The Good Soldier and The Daughter of Time on the list -- clearly a woman of taste and discernment.

    1. I think you'd love both book and film actually, Harriet, even with their dissimilarities - so I hope you get a chance to do one or other or both!

  3. Fabulous interview of a glamorous movie (and equally glamorous screenwriter) from one of my very favorite bloggers! Loved every word. xx

    1. Thanks so much for inspiring me to ask Mary if she'd be interested, after the fabulous interview on your always fabulous blog! :)

  4. I clearly need to read this book and watch the film.
    However I now feel justified in not having attempted Middlemarch :)

    1. Heehee! Yes, nothing like mutual confession to aid these things, is there?

  5. I'm so annoyed it never showed anywhere near me here in the U.S. !!! But the DVD is available here next month, so I'll console myself.

    And I agree about the first 100 pages of Middlemarch, they're pretty slow. I somehow managed to push on and then I absolutely loved it. It's the only one of Eliot's works I really like. I hope you give it another chance someday.


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