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Ben Wheatley's Sightseers: A caravan tour de force

By Tim Masters
Entertainment and arts correspondent, BBC News

image captionNot-so-happy campers: Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram) in Sightseers

Ben Wheatley is back with Sightseers - a blackly comic take on the British caravan holiday. But after the darkness of Kill List, he admits he's going for more laughs this time.

"I just want to be feared and respected. It's not too much to ask from life, is it?" asks caravan enthusiast Chris as he and girlfriend Tina tour the English countryside.

Chris looks like a normal outdoors type. But beneath his breathable waterproof jacket beats the heart of a serial killer.

Welcome to Sightseers - the new film from Ben Wheatley, whose previous outings Down Terrace and Kill List have established him as an important part of the British film-making landscape.

Even before its UK release this week, Sightseers has garnered seven nominations from the British Independent Film Awards, including Wheatley as best director.

"I tend to not think about it all too much, and just turn up on the day," admits Wheatley when he meet at his distributor's offices in London's Soho.

image captionBen Wheatley's previous films were Kill List and Down Terrace

Sightseers has a script by comedians Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, who star as odd couple Chris and Tina. The pair developed the characters over several years on the UK comedy circuit and in a short film.

After some final tweaks by Amy Jump, Wheatley's writing partner, editor and wife, the script was ready to shoot.

No surprise then that Sightseers is familiar Wheatley territory - black comedy and extreme violence splashed liberally across a distinctively British canvas, in this case assorted tourist spots in northern England.

Chris and Tina's holiday spins out of control when a string of minor incidents - dropped litter, noisy campers and the like - conspires to send the couple off on a killing spree.

"We feel frustrated by all sorts of interactions in life, but thankfully the social contract is strong enough to stop us acting on our basest instincts," says Wheatley. "That's not the case with these characters.

"We were cautious not to make it too malicious or vicious. It's violent - and some of it's red raw - but it doesn't slip too far into the really heavy misery of Kill List.

"It pulls back before it really upsets the audience. I wanted them to laugh!"

image captionDog days: Tina (Alice Lowe) with holiday companion Banjo

During 12-hour shoots, Oram and Lowe stayed in character in locations such as the Crich Tramway museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct, the Keswick Pencil Museum and assorted peaks.

Wheatley confides: "I was watching Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights the other day and I recognised the same crag that we shot on. I thought, 'Hang on - I know this rock!'"

Like many British holidaymakers, the cast and crew of Sightseers were at the mercy of the climate.

"We had all weathers, but it was part of the story. The Lake District is incredibly beautiful but it can be harsh.

"There were cyclones blowing across Windermere. We saw it coming towards us and it knocked the whole crew over like bowling pins."

Did places like the Crich tram museum - the scene of the first grisly murder - realise what they were letting themselves in for?

"I really hope they feel like we treated them well," says Wheatley. "We could have made a film that was a bit snide about these places, and I didn't feel that way towards them.

"It's about the characters finding these places. I'm a big fan of these kind of heritage sites."

Wheatley has a busy schedule. His next film - A Field in England, a story of alchemy and magic mushrooms - is already shot.

It is set during the English Civil War and filmed in black and white. Wheatley says "it's as different as it could be" from Sightseers.

image captionOram and Lowe developed the characters of Chris and Tina at comedy gigs

Later in 2013, Wheatley takes on his biggest budget yet with Freak Shift - a cops versus monsters movie being shot in the UK.

He takes a pragmatic approach to being in control of a $20 million movie.

"At the end of the day it boils down to a cameraman and a director and a couple of actors. All films have the same issues of pace and quality, and I feel all right about it."

But can Wheatley see himself heading to Hollywood? "A studio film is a particular beast, but I don't see it as the pot of gold.

"It would be great to do something like that - equally it would be good to do a French film, or a big action movie. I'm interested, but it's not something I hold as a measure of success."

Sightseers is out in the UK on 30 November. The British Independent Film Awards are on 9 December.

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