Ben Wheatley on taking new film Free Fire to Inverness

By Steven McKenzie
BBC Scotland Highlands and Islands reporter

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image captionFree Fire revolves around a criminal guns deal which goes awry

Film-maker Ben Wheatley is about to do something that he has not done since he was about seven years old - make a trip to Inverness. And this time he is heading north with a film studded with stars and stories about FBI ballistics reports and old telephones.

"As a boy growing up in Essex going to Scotland was a big adventure," says the director.

"I remember those trips vividly.

"This was back in the 1970s when you would get up at five in the morning and get into the back of the car with a duvet and a pillow, and not wear a seatbelt.

"I have family in Edinburgh and we'd go up there and also up to Inverness. But I've not been back to Inverness since I was six or seven."

Wheatley will return to the Highland city later this month to introduce a screening of Free Fire at Eden Court followed by a Q&A with the audience as part of tour of UK and Ireland with the film.

Martin Scorsese

Appropriately, like the last time he was in Inverness, the movie is rooted in the 70s.

Its plot revolves around an illegal guns deal gone wrong.

The cast includes, among other big names, 28 Days Later and Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy and District 9's Sharlto Copley.

It also features Brie Larson who was 2015's winner of the best actress Oscar for her role in Room and more recently unveiled as Marvel's choice to play its superhero Captain Marvel.

And there are stars behind the scenes too. Martin Scorsese, a fan of Wheatley-directed 2011 movie Kill List, is an executive producer.

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image captionBrie Larson was cast before her Oscar win for her role in the film, Room

Wheatley's tour with Free Fire started in Truro in Cornwall and this month will take him to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Dublin before he goes to Inverness and then Edinburgh.

This is the biggest of these tours that the director has done. They started off with screenings of his films in London only, before growing to the wider-reaching tour for 2015's High-Rise starring Tom Hiddleston.

Wheatley says, with good humour: "There was some whinging on Twitter that I was missing places out so this tour goes a bit further than before.

"But there are other reasons. I want to see these cinemas the film is being shown in."

'Miami shootout'

Free Fire, co-written by Wheatley and Amy Jump, who also wrote Wheatley-directed films including Kill List, Sightseers and High-Rise, brings together a number of big names in film and television.

Murphy's role was written first following a chat with Wheatley over lunch. Free Fire's story and its other actors followed, including Lone Ranger's Armie Hammer.

"Armie is on the ascendancy at the moment with Final Portrait. It is getting really good reviews." says Wheatley.

He adds: "People will look at Free Fire and say 'oh I see you have cast an Oscar winner', but Brie was involved in the film before Room."

Wheatley says he tries to tackle a different genre in each of his films. Free Fire is his action movie.

Archived ballistic reports have guided much of its action scenes which, as the film's title suggests, involves lots of gun play.

"Shoot-outs in real life are very different from Hollywood's," says Wheatley. "I started out by reading an FBI report of a shoot-out in Miami in the 1980s.

"Every bullet fired had to be accounted for by the FBI agents and the report showed just how hard it is to hit a moving target, how bullets miss and hit something else. The report also gave a blow-by-blow account of the injuries involved."

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image captionBen Wheatley, right, and actor Armie Hammer on the set of Free Fire

Setting his film in the 1970s was also important to the storytelling. Part of the plot involves a single ringing, landline telephone.

Wheatley says: "If it had been set in the present day the characters would have been able to pull out a mobile phone. We would have had to have spent a lot of time in the film explaining why they couldn't use those phones, such as they were in a place with no coverage."

Meanwhile, a contemporary film and a science fiction movie are the genres that are now in Wheatley's sights for his next movies.

Talking about Free Fire and his other period films, which include English Civil War era A Field in England, he says: "I suppose period films can be seen as a bit like science fiction because the clothing, settings and language, which in film we can show in beautiful detail, can be strange to audiences."

For some people planning to go along to the Inverness screening on 27 February, making a long road trip without the legal requirement to wear a seatbelt and the importance of a landline telephone connection may indeed seem like something from another world.