Cinema 1 was packed with interested filmgoers and star -spotters
for the beginning of Bristol Silent's latest season of silent
For instead of the black and white classics of the 1920s and
1930s, the organisers were screening something of a first,
a contemporary film, not totally silent but with "limited
Starring Bristol-based actor Paul McGann and Frances Barber,
"Listening" is a bit of a departure from director
Kenneth Branagh's usual Shakespearean classics and major epics.
This is a small film with a big heart, which manages to tell
a story of love and loss in a short amount of time and with
virtually no words.
"I wanted to see if I could tell a story in a compressed
way," explained Branagh.
"To convey an accelerated intimacy that comes from not
The simple, but powerful, story is set in an English retreat
where autumn turns the leaves to gold and red.
powerful film - of few words
beautifully filmed countryside provides the perfect backdrop
for a scene of peace and tranquility into which McGann appears,
seeming in perfect harmony with his speechless surroundings.
The film starts slowly and peacefully, meandering through
the spiritual retreat where people have come to get away from
noise and the pressures of modern life.
Into this world crashes Frances Barber, with a squeal of brakes,
a mobile to her ear and the look of someone grimly holding
on to the edge of sanity.
She and McGann meet up and sparks fly as the two fall in love.
But McGann is concealing a secret and the two are separated
by an unwillingness to communicate all of their selves, leaving
the audience as emotionally battered as the characters.
After the film there was a great opportunity for the people
of Bristol to quiz the esteemed film-maker.
Questions ranged from the gushing, through the "look
at me and how much I know about films," to the perceptive
and intuitive - and Branagh and executive producer Simon Mosley
answered them all with grace and good humour.
There were plenty of questions about the making of Listening
- where the ideas had come from, the constraints imposed by
the length and format of the silent short and the reaction
of the actors.
"The idea came from reading lots of short stories, particularly
by Thomas Hardy and his quirks of fate," explained Branagh.
"I wanted to show a sense of lives passing and missing
each other, and layers of meaning culminating in a beautiful
Branagh explained that the actors were sometimes left to their
own devices, with a deliberate lack of rehearsal and at other
times liked to be constantly motivated through scenes.
"Both found it interesting in a concentrated way to convey
the truth of a character without words," he said.
Shooting the film
The 23 minute film itself took six days to shoot last year.
"There's the film you plan, the film you shoot and the
film you edit - and they can all be very different,"
Members of the Bristol audience also wanted to know the reaction
of deaf people to the film and if a deaf actor had been considered
for the role played by Paul McGann.
"I spoke to a deaf actor in this city and showed the
script to several people who are deaf - but I wanted to make
the issue his personality rather than his deafness,"
"I also wanted his face to have what Paul has, a beatific,
otherworldly quality like James Cagney, a 'far away fella'."
Then there were the more general questions, such as who Branagh
would have cast if he could have chosen any actors of the
past for the roles, "Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn,"
and his own plans for the future.
"Simon and I are developing a romantic comedy from a
British novel and another novel that's a murder mystery,"
"I'm not a natural writer, I don't have the discipline,
but I am reading lots."
Branagh told the Bristol audience he is also thinking of continuing
his shorts career with a series of films dealing with the
other four senses.
On the basis of this one film, enthusiasts could well have
a treat in store.