Michael Winterbottom, 2005
|Born||29 March 1961
Blackburn, Lancashire, U.K.
Michael Winterbottom (born 29 March 1961) is a prolific British filmmaker who has directed sixteen films in the past thirteen years. He began his career working in British television before moving into features. Three of his films — Welcome to Sarajevo, Wonderland and 24 Hour Party People — have been nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Winterbottom was born in Blackburn, Lancashire. He went to Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Blackburn, taking his O Levels in an accelerated four years, and then attended Oxford University before going to film school at Bristol University, where his contemporaries included Marc Evans.
Winterbottom's television career included such diverse projects as Jimmy McGovern's mystery series Cracker, the Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, two documentaries about Ingmar Bergman, numerous television movies and an episode of the series Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood, focusing on Scandinavian silent cinema. He also directed the mini-series Family, written by Roddy Doyle, with each of four episodes focusing on one member of a working-class Dublin family. It was this series that first brought Winterbottom to the attention of moviegoers, when it was edited down into a feature.
Winterbottom's 1995 cinematic debut firmly established his intense visual sense, naturalistic style and compelling use of pop songs to reinforce narrative. The story of a mentally unbalanced lesbian serial killer and her submissive lover/accomplice falling in love as they slaughter their way across the motorways of northern England, it found only a limited release. That same year, he reunited with Jimmy McGovern for the powerful BBC television film Go Now, the story of a young man who falls ill with multiple sclerosis just as he has met the love of his life. Focusing on the turmoil this causes the couple, the film was given a theatrical release in many countries, including the United States.
In 1996 Winterbottom adapted his favourite novel, Thomas Hardy's bleak classic Jude the Obscure, the tale of forbidden love between two cousins which had so scandalized British society on its release in 1895 that Hardy gave up novel-writing. It was not Winterbottom's first time approaching the work, having already filmed the pig-slaughter sequence at film school. Starring Christopher Eccleston and Kate Winslet, Jude brought Winterbottom wider recognition, his first screening at Cannes and numerous Hollywood offers, all of which he eventually turned down.
Welcome to Sarajevo was filmed on location in the titular city, mere months after the Siege of Sarajevo had ended, adding greatly to its sense of authenticity and allowing frequent intercutting of actual news footage from the combat. The film is based on the true story of a British reporter, Michael Nicholson, who spirited a young orphan girl out of the war zone to safety in Britain.
Winterbottom's next two films both had distribution difficulties and were not widely seen. I Want You is a neo-noir sex thriller, shot in bold primary colors by the Polish cinematographer Slawomir Idziak and set in a decaying seaside resort. Starring Rachel Weisz and Alessandro Nivola, it focuses more on mood than plot and was inspired by the Elvis Costello song of the same name. With or Without You, starring Christopher Eccleston, is a light Belfast-set sex comedy, about a couple who are trying desperately to conceive, only for each to have past loves re-enter their lives.
1999's Wonderland marked a decided shift in style for Winterbottom, with its loose, handheld photography and naturalistic, often improvised dialogue which drew comparisons to Robert Altman. Featuring Gina McKee, Shirley Henderson, John Simm, Ian Hart and Stuart Townsend, it is the story of three sisters and their extended family over the Guy Fawkes Day weekend in London. The disparate elements are tied together by an orchestral score by minimalist composer Michael Nyman, who would become a frequent collaborator with Winterbottom.
Winterbottom followed that project up with his biggest budgeted film, The Claim, an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge set in 1860s' California. Shot with a budget of $20 million in the wilds of Canada, it was not a financial success and proved an ordeal to make, with Winterbottom himself getting frostbite. The production had previously been ready to shoot in Spain, with sets already built, when financing fell through. Attempts were made to cast Madonna, in a role eventually played by Milla Jovovich and many of the production details and difficulties were explained to the public on an unusually frank official website.
24 Hour Party People documents the anarchic, drug and sex-fueled rise and fall of the influential label Factory Records and the music scene in Manchester from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. As much an ode to the city of Manchester as the story of the contemporary musical world, the film stars Steve Coogan as broadcaster/music-mogul Tony Wilson.
His 2002 film In This World depicts the harrowing journey of two Afghan refugees from Pakistan, across the Middle East and Europe to Britain which they try to enter with the help of people smugglers. Shot on digital video with non-professional actors who virtually lived out the events of the film, its compelling sense of reality brought Winterbottom numerous awards including a Golden Bear and a BAFTA for best film not in the English language.
The futuristic romantic mystery Code 46 is a retelling of the Oedipus myth, in a world where cloning has created people so interrelated that strict laws (the Code 46 of the title) govern human reproduction. Essentially a film noir, it follows a fraud investigator played by Tim Robbins as he investigates a femme fatale played by Samantha Morton. The film's highly stylized settings were created on a limited budget by taking the tiny crew around the world, shooting in places which already looked like one hundred years in the future. Much of the film was shot in Shanghai, while Dubai and Rajasthan in India were also variously mixed to create a multi-ethnic melting-pot culture.
9 Songs, released in 2004, gained attention as the most sexually explicit film ever to receive a certificate for general release in the UK. It charts a year-long relationship between two lovers, almost exclusively through their sexual interaction and various rock concerts the couple attend. During these concerts, the nine songs of the film's title often comment on the couple's relationship. The film became notorious in the UK for its candid scenes of unsimulated sex between the leads, Kieran O'Brien and Margo Stilley.
He followed that with 2006's A Cock and Bull Story, an adaptation of the famously "unfilmable" The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, one of the earliest novels. Shandy is a narrator so easily distracted in relating his life story that by the end of the book he has not yet come to his own birth. The movie, similarly, is about the making of a film of Tristram Shandy, and the impossibility of that task. Moreover, it deals with the impossibility of capturing the complexity of life in a work of art, but the value of the attempt. Steve Coogan stars as himself and as Shandy. The film also marks the end of Winterbottom's lengthy collaboration with writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, who chose to be credited under the pseudonym Martin Hardy.
Winterbottom's, The Road to Guantanamo, is a docu-drama about the "Tipton Three", three British Muslims captured by US forces in Afghanistan who spent two years as prisoners at Guantánamo Bay as alleged enemy combatants. It was shot in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran (which doubled as Cuba) in the autumn of 2005. It premiered at the Berlinale on 14 February 2006. It debuted in the UK on television, on 9 March, as it was co-financed by Channel 4.
A Mighty Heart is based on the book by Mariane Pearl, wife of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl. The film stars Angelina Jolie and focuses on the pregnant Mariane's search for her missing husband in Pakistan in 2002. Produced by Jolie's partner Brad Pitt, it was shot in the autumn of 2006 in India, Pakistan and France and premiered out of competition at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival on 21 May.
Genova, is a family drama about an Englishman, played by Colin Firth, who moves his two American daughters to Italy following the death of his wife. Once there, the oldest girl starts exploring her sexuality, while the younger girl begins to see the ghost of her mother. It co-stars Catherine Keener and Hope Davis and was filmed in the titular city of Genoa, Italy, during the summer of 2007. It was written by Wonderland screenwriter Laurence Coriat. It premiered at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival and Winterbottom later won the Silver Shell for best director at the San Sebastian International Film Festival.
Winterbottom was reunited with his The Road to Guantanamo co-director Mat Whitecross on a documentary based on Naomi Klein's bestselling book The Shock Doctrine. The film premiered at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival and aired in the UK on Channel 4's More4 documentary channel on 1 September 2009. Shown on the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Park City, Utah.
"The Promised Land" - anti-Zionist project about heroic struggle of British mandate police against Jewish terrorists in Palestine during the World War II.
Also in the pipeline is London Fields. Adapted from the novel by Martin Amis, it follows a psychic who, having succumbed to a series of false premonitions, contends with her final vision. Compelled to visit a murky pub, she encounters two different men — one of whom might be her killer.
Plans to shoot Murder in Samarkand have also been announced. Based on the memoirs of Craig Murray — the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who was fired after drawing attention to the violent rule of American and British sponsored ruler Islom Karimov — the film will reunite Winterbottom with Steve Coogan, who will play Murray. The script is by playwright David Hare.
Also, Winterbottom has begun work on a project that will not be released before 2012. Seven Days will star John Simm as a man imprisoned for drug-smuggling and charts his relationship with his wife, played by Shirley Henderson. Written by Winterbottom and Coriat, the film is being shot a few weeks at a time, over a five-years period, to reflect the protagonist's time in prison and achieve an authentic ageing process.