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Spring 2005
"Some of my dreams came true"
Dai Bradley standing outside the National Museum of Photography, Film and TV
Dai Bradley at the 2005 Bradford Film Festival

Dai Bradley has become known to filmgoers throughout the world as a boy with a kestrel. Now he stars in Asylum which has been chosen as the closing night gala film for the 2005 Bradford Film Festival. We talked to Dai about his life as an actor.

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In 1969 Dai (then David Bradley) was chosen by director Ken Loach to play the lead role of Billy Casper in Kes, the story of a boy in a Barnsley mining village who for a short time escapes from the grim reality of his life when he finds a wild kestrel.

Voted the seventh greatest British film of all time in a BFI (British Film Institute) poll, 35 years on Kes still has a dark message but Dai believes his latest film Asylum is more harrowing. Three young Kurds, fleeing persecution and torture in northern Iraq, seek asylum in the UK. After a misunderstanding over paperwork Mahmoud and Razghar are going to be detained but are given sanctuary by a priest when they burst into his church. A 20-day siege follows.

Dai Bradley as Father Michael
Dai Bradley as Father Michael in Asylum

Dai Bradley plays the priest, Father Michael. He says of the film: "It's a very powerful, dramatic, no-punches-pulled drama." He also believes it is very topical. When visiting his own town of Barnsley recently "one of the locals near where my mother lives caught me in the street and said he thought [the film] was a wonderful idea. He'd just seen a Panorama programme about the sweatshop industry in the Far East and he thought that the movie should be shown at schools all over the country. I thought, coming from an ordinary working-class bloke, a builder by trade, this was very illuminating. I think it would do very well in schools. It would help pupils realise that different cultures have in some way got to understand each other to move on from the prejudices and bigotry we have in society."

He talks about his own role in the film: "I came on board quite late. I only had about seven days to prepare for my character and it was a huge script, about 300 pages...Not knowing anything really about the Catholic faith, although I am very interested in philosophy and comparative religion, I went on a crash course. The whole film took five weeks to shoot. It was just after Christmas when I came on board so I was able to get to a Christmas mass and a New Year's Mass just to see the ritual of giving Communion...I was also fortunate enough to go and meet a real Catholic father who ran a lodge for visiting priests from the Third World and Ireland. So although I was a little nervous on the first day of shooting it was a great challenge and I don't forget it for one moment."

Dai believes there are similarities between Asylum and his first film: "The director, Nigel Barker, wanted to create a documentary style film which is what Ken Loach tends to do and also Mike Leigh - two great directors in this country who don't get the credit they deserve. There are certain similarities in the style of filming it, it's very real, but there are other features about the film too. It's also about Father Michael's dilemma with the church authorities who want him to resolve the issue as soon possible, they want him to come into the church which he believes would be against these boys' civil rights. He believes there's a great wrong being done here and he wants to ensure these young people will not be put back on the first plane to Iraq.

Dai BScene from Asylum
Asylum is a "very much in your face and no punches pulled" film.

"So there are similarities between Kes and Asylum. Kes wasn't as harrowing in some ways as Asylum was. Asylum takes place inside a church and, owing to the fact the director wanted to create this very real environment, it's very much in your face and no punches pulled, and he created situations whereby we ran several scenes together. There was one section which ran for about 15 minutes which in film terms is very long indeed so I can recall two particular days when we shot something like 60 scenes. In some respects it was a harrowing experience and the film is quite near to the bone too. It's not for the faint-hearted but it's definitely worth seeing because it helps you understand more about the situation of people escaping from persecution and torture, and there are legitimate people who have asylum claims as opposed to economic immigration which is a different issue all together."

As with Kes, Asylum director Nigel Barker has used local people to take the part of the parishioners and has largely cast actors who are not very well known in the main roles, seeking performances that were not theatrical. Dai says: "In a lot of respects I try to play down my character, or the exuberance Dai Bradley gives to a theatrical performance because it's not really the story of Father Michael. It's about the two young boys."

If Dai considers himself to be somewhat theatrical it may be be something to do with the fact that between Kes and Asylum he has also been acting on the stage. He was in Peter Shaffer's play Equus for a run of two and a half years and there have been other good roles: "I chanced upon a wonderful Ted Hughes radio play, that is in his book Wodwo, which I recall seeing at the Old Vic with a wonderful actor called Peter McEnery. I was astounded by this piece of work and promised myself if I ever had the opportunity to do the piece that I would try. I recall being in South Africa prior to the political changes there and I had the opportunity to do this play called The Wound. It was a psychological drama taking place in World War Two about a young man who is the only survivor after a surprise attack by the enemy, which I thought was quite apt for South Africa. I'd just finished doing a film called For King and Country, which Dirk Bogarde and Tom Courtenay did in the '60s, and a great friend of mine out in South Africa asked me to do a play of my own choosing. My friend and I co-directed it, I played the leading role and we got good reviews. It's a one-hour piece and we were nominated for best play and best actor.

"Filmwise, Absolution is something I enjoyed doing with Richard Burton and Billy Connolly. That was great fun, but the role of the actor, unless you're in the top 7% or 8%, is a kind of roller-coaster and my career has been a roller-coaster in a lot of ways, but then I don't see life purely as being solely about acting. That's what I do for a living. That's what I enjoy doing obviously but life is about experiences and taking challenges as opposed to be fretting about where the next job is coming from."

Dai Bradley in Kes
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