Maeve was at New Hall in the 80s
Film abides by Murphy's law
Director and Cambridge graduate Maeve Murphy chats to film critic Jan Gilbert about her student days and her latest film, Beyond the Fire.
You can catch Jan’s weekly movie reviews and gossip with Antonia Brickell on Drive between 4 and 6pm on 95.6, 96FM and 1026 MW
When Belfast-born Maeve Murphy read English at Cambridge University’s New Hall (now Murray Edwards College) in the mid 80s, she had no idea her future lay in cinema.
Still, one particular film of the many Murphy watched during her student days left a lasting impression.
"I remember seeing Oliver Stone’s Salvador at the Arts Cinema. It blew my mind. It was an amazing piece of cinema, so powerful and moving. It had a real impact on me. I couldn’t stop crying after watching it."
But, as with so many Cambridge graduates who’ve gone on to big-screen careers, it was the stage which first caught Murphy’s attention.
Cara Seymour and Scot Williams star
"At that time it was really just the theatre scene that was happening in Cambridge," she explains. "I was very involved in the [University’s comedy troupe] Footlights. I did lots of comedy, acting, and writing. Lots of silly sausage sketches, fun stuff.
"I was the group’s Secretary and David Baddiel was the Vice President. We did two pantomines together. There were eight or so people on the committee but I seem to remember being the only woman. I don’t know how much it was a reaction against that that I went into women’s theatre!"
Trouble and Strife
And that’s how the writer-director met Cara Seymour, who became not only a good friend, but also a long-term creative collaborator and the star of Murphy’s latest film Beyond the Fire.
"In my second year I got involved in Trouble and Strife, a women’s theatre company formed in Cambridge," she says. "That did really well. It won Edinburgh Fringe Fest awards and Time Out awards for plays we co-wrote and acted in.
"And once we left university, we went professional. Cara was part of Trouble and Strife too, and since that time we’ve had a long-standing working relationship and friendship.
Maeve won LIFF's Best UK Feature award
"Because we’ve worked so closely together, for example in fringe theatre, there’s an understanding between us which means we have an incredible trust."
And that’s something which stood the pair in good stead on Beyond the Fire, a ‘redemptive love story’ about two survivors of abuse who find comfort in each other’s arms.
Best UK Feature
"Obviously playing a survivor of rape is a very deep role for an actress," says Murphy. "Cara lives in New York so we would talk on the phone once a week and go through the scripts, really mining each scene for its emotional truth. Although Cara’s done a lot of Hollywood stuff [You’ve Got Mail, American Psycho], she’s very un-Hollywoody in approach. She really wanted to mine the truth, and so did I."
Judges at this year’s London Independent Film Festival obviously appreciated Murphy and Seymour’s work as Beyond the Fire took home the Best UK Feature award. "It’s great to see everybody’s efforts recognised,’ says Murphy. ‘It’s given the film a real boost."
But not everyone was quite as appreciative of the director’s work. Sheamy, one of the film’s main characters, is an Irish ex-priest who as a child was abused by a priest. When Murphy needed to find a Catholic church to film a scene with the adult Sheamy, she found it almost impossible.
Back to comedy
"We didn’t know what to do," reveals Murphy. "We thought we were going to have to shoot in a Protestant church, but we tried a couple and even that wasn’t necessarily forthcoming. In the end we were just really lucky that a priest in Camden Town let us film there. I guess that was his way of supporting reform."
Cara and Maeve met in Cambridge
Released shortly after the Ryan Report (Ireland’s commission into child abuse), Beyond the Fire has found itself in an unusual situation. "I don’t know if I’ll ever experience again a time when news, reality, and cinema are sliding together at the same moment," admits the director.
"It’s an honour for Beyond the Fire to be pulled in as part of the debate and discussion surrounding the Report."
However, Murphy’s next project promises to be something quite different: a return to her Cambridge comedy roots. ‘There is a side to me which is very interested in social issues and realist drama but there is another side of me which likes comedy.
"I’ve got this kind of schizophrenic existence!" she tells me laughing. "So with my next film, I want to fuse the two."
last updated: 22/07/2009 at 16:33