Here is a very rough transcription of the Quirke Preview Screening and Panel held at BFI Southbank in London on June 20. The sound is below par and the microphone was not where it needed to be sometimes to pick up certain voices. Sorry.
“…” means one or two words are unintelligible.
[inaudible] means the voice was so low the microphone did not pick it up OR people were talking over one another and so everything they said is lost.
There are SPOILERS ahead so be wary if you have not read the books!
Quirke Preview Panel at BFI Southbank in London, June 20, 2013
Welcome to the stage your panel for this evening: the author, John Banville, writer and adapter Andrew Davies, director John Alexander, and playing Phoebe, Aisling Franciosi, and your chairperson, the crime writer, Frances Fyfield.
[inaudible and applause]
Frances Fyfield: I don’t know about anybody else, but I thought that was an absolute Wow. It rather blew me away so therefore I am short of questions actually, full of admiration and I wonder how something so multi-layered as this comes about. I first wanted to …Aisling, who, as you know from that wonderful picture on the screen I would introduce on this panel as clearly The Beauty Among the Beasts. I understand that, Aisling, this is the first time you have seen the film in total.
Aisling Franciosi: Yes…I’m recovering (?). I’m pretty nervous but I think it’s great. I mean…[inaudible]
Frances Fyfield: In general interest, how much did you know about your role before you were involved, your audition for it?
Aisling Franciosi: I had only seen an article…and Gabriel playing Quirke…and I did read the books because I wanted to know about Phoebe and the atmosphere…
Frances Fyfield: You are a native of Dublin. Do you think that helped?
Aisling Franciosi: [inaudible]
Frances Fyfield: You’re not a native of Dublin but you’ve …
Aisling Franciosi: Yeah, I think in the sense of where it’s set and the 1950’s and I had to find out about what was going on at the time, cultural…[inaudible]
Frances Fyfield: What…if I may ask, did you think of your “dad,” Gabriel Byrne?
Aisling Franciosi: He is just–I can’t see how you ever–it was so much fun to work with him. He was like a mentor to me and I could not ask for a better mentor.
Frances Fyfield: But you can tell us now in confidence, was it a happy experience or was it one full of anxiety?
Aisling Franciosi: I cried when it finished, so I really did not want it to end. It was a really amazing experience.
Frances Fyfield: And you’re in the next in the series and the next?
Aisling Franciosi: [says something affirmative]
Frances Fyfield: And I don’t think you’re allowed to tell us anything about what happens to Phoebe next because she seems to have had a pretty rough deal in this one.
Aisling Franciosi: Yeah [inaudible]…obviously, there are repercussions!
Frances Fyfield: Well, that’s our one actress. We were hoping Gabriel Byrne would be able to be here but we have the Beauty Among the Beasts. Andrew, I’ll ask you next: how did you come into writing this?
Andrew Davies: Sheer luck. Sheer luck. I’d read some of John’s literary novels before. I wasn’t aware of Benjamin Black novels, so it was just [inaudible]. When Kate Howard (?) just sent it around, would I like to read this one and see what I thought and I just devoured it. I loved it. It’s so rare to find a crime book that’s so beautifully written, so rich and deep and complex and I immediately said “are there any more?” and got hold of them and I said I want to do them all! Well, I finished up doing the first two and that was very good. I mean it was just a delight to spend time with such terrific material. Yeah.
Frances Fyfield: I can agree with that. Now, John Banville, do you like to be called Benjamin Black or John Banville?
John Banville: Banville will do.
Frances Fyfield: Banville will do. I wonder, as a fellow writer, not a Booker Prize winner, what made you decide after winning the Booker Prize … you should up the game to crime? I call it ascending, not descending.
John Banville: I like the notion that people think that it was after I won the Booker. In fact, on the day that the Booker shortlist was announced in 2005, my agent was having lunch with my publisher and said by the way, there’s a new Banville novel, it’s rather different and written under a different name. So I had become Benjamin Black before the Booker Prize. The problem with winning the prize and that is that people assume your life began at that stage. I’m really only about seven. [inaudible] I had written a script, oddly enough, it’s one of the nice things about the writing life, I’d written a script for a mini-series that didn’t get made and I decided I’d turn it into a novel because I’d begun to read George Simenon and he greatly impressed me with what could be done with crime fiction. I’ve always read crime fiction all my life. I admire it greatly. So I turned it into a novel. I didn’t know if I could do it. I went to Italy, a friend of mine lent me a room, Monday morning at nine o’clock I sat down and thought “can I do this?” and by lunchtime I’d written two and a half thousand words which, for Banville, would have been an absolute scandal because Banville, if you got two hundred words by lunchtime, he would be doing well. And so Benjamin Black was born and is now free. I feel like Baron Frankenstein. The monster is now out in the world. And he can’t be stopped.
Frances Fyfield: I have to ask an obvious question: how much of you is Quirke or vice versa?
John Banville: Oh nothing in me is Quirke, of course. I mean, they’re all me. You know all characters are one’s self. I am the only material I have to work with. But it’s very nice that Aisling is here because my agent used to insist that I was not Phoebe but it suddenly struck me one day that in fact I am Phoebe. [inaudible] Sorry, darling!
Frances Fyfield: Now John Alexander, how did you get into directing this…Was it a commission? Did you volunteer? Or was it a labor of love?
John Alexander: All three of those things, I think, in many ways. It was a piece that was sent to me and I read the script and I thought it was an incredibly layered piece and an exciting period and place and at that time I also knew that Gabriel Byrne was attached to it. And as you read it, you could just see him as this character. So…[inaudible]…some people to let me do it. It was rich material.
Frances Fyfield: Can I ask you something as the director about the settings? We don’t actually, well we very convincingly in the film we go to America, we go to the rich outskirts of Boston and the look that goes with that. But we don’t actually go to America in this film, do we?
John Alexander: No, it was filmed in and around Dublin. Well, when I first started there was talk of going to Canada. And then there was talk well maybe we’ll send the second unit and do some shots … and Camden (?) and then actually no we can’t afford to do any of that [inaudible].
Frances Fyfield: Andrew Davies, you’ve read the book, you’ve read all the books, and this one, this adaptation strikes me as remarkably close to the book, the contents of the book, very little left out. Was that extremely complicated? You’ve got the two locations, you’ve got abrupt transitions between Dublin and America. Was that a problem?
Andrew Davies: Well I don’t think it was. It wasn’t if it kind of works for the audience, if the audience, like the first time you cut to Boston, you say where you are and then after that–I think audiences are cleverer than we think they are and they don’t like to be too spoon-fed about all that kind of thing. And as for staying very close to the original, I would always say that if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. It seemed fine to me. I just put the book down there and copy it out. [laughter] Sorry!
Frances Fyfield: Did you–in the adaptation–did you work together on it?
Andrew Davies: No…I met John when…I’d met him decades before, on a drunken day in London…I met him in Dublin when I was half-way through the first draft and we liked each other enough to like meet one-to-one, so I had a long lunch with him and then he showed me around some of the key places for him in Dublin which was very useful to me and then I actually, without telling anybody, the producer or anybody on the show, sent him the first draft when I’d finished it. Because I was a bit worried whether I’d got the Dublin idioms right or not. I just wanted him to like it, really, or at least say, you know, it’s okay and both of those things happened. He corrected my Dublin idioms and he gave the script his blessing, so that was the extent of our collaboration. It was all there in the book, you see. Sometimes, when I was adapting “Tipping the Velvet,” I really needed to consult Sarah Waters about some technical aspects that I didn’t… [laughter] But so this is all about stuff that I’m deeply into myself.
Frances Fyfield: The difference of working with a living writer, because you wouldn’t have had to consult Tolstoy himself, would you?
Andrew Davies: I’m just trying to get in touch with the guy himself. I’ve just embarked on “War and Peace.” Keep me busy for the next six months. It’s mostly been actually very good, you know, working with people who are still around. So far.
Frances Fyfield: John, what about you? Do you, when you’re directing something like this, or anything, do you like to involve the writer? In my experience of having televizations made, the director is well advised to keep the writer off the set at all times.
John Alexander: Well, yeah, the set’s not a good place for the writer at all times, but there was lots of involvement…
Andrew Davies: Yeah, up to and including the read-through, I guess, and then, after that…
John Alexander: [inaudible] …because Andrew’s got an idea of settings and the way a scene would go…
Andrew Davies: Yeah, we can’t do it there, we can’t do it there, can you re-write it so it can happen there?
John Alexander: So it just get’s a little prosaic at times, I think [inaudible] so we just have to work around it. The script is there when I go to it and it’s more to do with the production aspect…
Andrew Davies: I saw a rough cut or a fine cut but all the music was gone and everything and I thought the music was GREAT! I loved it.
Frances Fyfield: The music was a heart beat. Did you like the music, Aisling?
Aisling Franciosi: Yes. I haven’t seen it at all. [inaudible–something about ADR]
Frances Fyfield: Were you surprised at yourself?
Aisling Franciosi: Well, I was kinda surprised at the whole Kate thing [inaudible]…
Frances Fyfield: I wanted to know how you did that bit rolling under the car…it wasn’t you…Are you looking forward to seeing the next in the series?
Aisling Franciosi: Yeah, I’m interested in seeing the different take that each one has…the character of Phoebe has a lot of interesting things…
Frances Fyfield: She does.
Andrew Davies: She has…terrible stuff! Just terrible terrible stuff!
Frances Fyfield: I notice in the film that you are slightly kinder to Phoebe in her accident in the end because in the book it’s a little worse than that, isn’t it, John?
John Banville: Oh yes, in the book it’s slightly worse [inaudible]. But Phoebe’s strong. She’s stronger than Quirke.
Frances Fyfield: John Alexander, were you interested in other aspects of this story, never mind the family story, the story of Quirke…there are certain implications, revelations really, that actually this trading of children to America was actually going on. Is that an aspect of the thing that would grab you?
John Alexander: Yeah, absolutely. It became really apparent [inaudible] I’m not from Dublin and I wanted to know as much as I could find out from the people I was working with and they had a lot to tell and it was something in that sense of betrayal, it was very very evident…
Frances Fyfield: …the depictions of the nuns and the priests–I don’t know who the casting director was on this but these were the most appalling looking priests and nuns! [inaudible–people talking over each other]…or a saint or a sinner, one way or another. Now we have questions from the audience for the next 15 minutes. Perhaps you’d better go on to them so I don’t cut you short. If anybody wants to ask a question, would you raise your hand?
[something about the microphone]…
Audience Member: I have a question for the writer. When you started writing the series, was the issue such a topical issue? Was it on the media as much as it is now, as we’ve discovered not only in Ireland but it’s going on in Spain and [inaudible] so was it mere I wouldn’t say luck but was it coincidence, the timing or–
John Banville: I understand the question. No, a lot of the stuff had come out really for us in Ireland. Roddy Doyle and I disagree. Roddy Doyle says Ireland changed in 1990 when the Irish team did something in some football match. They (?threw?) some country which was the equivalent of triumph. [inaudible] I say it changed about two or three years later [big problem with the mic here so much is lost] quote unquote 70,000 pounds of parish funds. And when that story came out, the floodgates opened and all kinds of wriggling worms came out. One (?choice?) good for the country and in the end was good for the Church as well because you know we mustn’t brand everybody in the Church. There were very decent priests, very decent nuns who did their best, who lived a virtuous life, who educated …who did it for free, so we mustn’t forget that. But there were a lot of very, very bad people and we all essentially covered up for them. But we had learned a lot of that by, certainly by 2003, 2004 when I started these books. But you know we–more and more came out…but then you see, I won’t go on very long on this–I wrote a piece for the New York Times when all this was happening and they said everybody knew and we did know. When I was growing up, we knew what was going on. But we had that wonderful–everybody, not just the Irish–all the peoples have this wonderful capacity to know and to not know something at the same time. And that’s at the center of these books. That people know and they don’t know, you know. Phoebe must know and not know, Quirke knows and doesn’t know, everybody–it’s all ambiguity.
[Audience Member?]And yet it’s all out in the air, the way they talk, they don’t cover up, they bring it out, Quirke brings it out…
John Banville: But ambiguity for me is the essence of life and certainly the essence of fiction, whether it’s crime fiction or any other kind of fiction.
Audience Member: This is a general question for everybody. Does Quirke pay the price for his extraordinary intake of alcohol and cigarettes and how much grape juice and herbal cigarettes did you get through during the filming process?
Frances Fyfield: This is a question that I wanted to ask. I mean, what were they all doing on the set? What were they really drinking and what were they really smoking?
John Alexander: Yeah, I think that’s right. I think it was grape juice and herbal cigarettes and we got through an awful lot of them. Actually, as I was watching, I don’t think we realized at the time how much was involved, but it’s quite apparent in those scenes with cigarettes and alcohol.
Frances Fyfield: You would think in just a precis of the film and just a very short soundtrack it would have been striking enough to pick up…and we take it as the exception that on set people could be smoking real cigarettes and drinking beer…
John Alexander: No, you can’t smoke real cigarettes on set. The only thing that is allowed is herbal cigarettes and performers often don’t like them and they’d rather smoke a real cigarette. But I think it all just becomes a part of the depiction of the period. That’s really what drives that.
John Banville: Don’t believe a word of it. It’s all fags and booze…[much laughter]
Frances Fyfield:…I’d rather hoped it was the case. How on earth you could endure all that trauma of being kicked down the stairs without real fags and real booze, I don’t know.
Audience Member: The word that I’ve conjured up for this film is sinister, even the wallpaper is sinister. [inaudible] And yet, when you go to Boston and you see the brown leaves, you’re bringing the brown and the dinge from Ireland over to Boston. Was that intentional or was it just brown leaves at the time when you were filming?
John Alexander: No, the color palette was intentional so the brown did help us but we always knew that one way of selling Boston was going to be that we wanted to go to sunshine and brightness, although knowing that, we didn’t have sunshine and brightness. There was still a dark secret. So I think one does smudge into the other. And that was intentional.
Audience Member: My question is for John Banville. You said that this Quirke story was more like a Frankenstein. I was just wondering what kind of fabric you are made of to produce Frankenstein. [much questioning about this question…then–]
Frances Fyfield: Is that your way of asking what was your inspiration for Quirke?
Audience Member: Yes, I think that is what I wanted to say.
Frances Fyfield: To John Banville: Is there a fictional inspiration for Quirke?
John Banville: Like all writers, I looked into my own dark heart and out popped Quirke. I don’t see myself as a particularly nice person. Look, we all carry our secrets with us. We all carry our strange dark urges that we don’t express, we can’t afford to express, life would be unbearable, the world would not work if we did. But that’s what writers do. We are given license to portray our worst selves. Quirke is a damaged person. He drinks even more than I do, which is saying a lot. But you know I’ve done dreadful things in my life as I’m sure we all have. Well, Aisling is too young, but give it time, darling. [Much laughter] The world around us is a strange and dark place. It’s also an exquisite and luminous place. When I handed in my latest novel to my Spanish publisher who was absolutely crazy about Quirke, I think…he said “Could you please lighten up a little on him?” I said allright, next time I’ll send him on holiday to Spain. [inaudible] But you know, the world is dark, it’s falsely colored…
Frances Fyfield: [inaudible] in subsequent episodes…can there at least be a promise of happiness, however short-lived? Can we be assured of that?
Andrew Davies: I think so. I think the character of Phoebe is like a little ray of light at the center of all things and we finish this episode with her really down but we can’t imagine her being down forever. Like she’s always lit like some lovely fifties movie heroine in those dark bars and you just caught it… [inaudible and laughter] you caught it just right and you get that and you kind of focus on her, like she’s that kind of character kind of gliding by.
Frances Fyfield: You think, Aisling, the story is going to bring back the whole taste for fifties eye-make-up, with that lovely black eye.
Andrew Davies (answers instead): I hope so! I hope so! I grew up loving that. Quirke’s bringing it all back.
[inaudible–laughter and people talking over one another]
Audience Member: Question for …to answer. How crucial was the casting of Gabriel to this project and talk about what he brings to the portrayal of this character.
John Alexander: Gabriel was attached when I read the script and when you read the script and you know it’s Gabriel– he seemed to embody him…he’s got an amazing stillness and there’s an integrity to Gabriel and I think he plays the kind of complexity of the character so well. I think you always trust that he’s trying to do his best and he has his dark secrets and he has his past loves and I think he manages to show the paradox of what you were talking about earlier, John, those two sides of the personality. I think that’s something that Gabriel is fantastic at expressing.
Frances Fyfield: I thought he was absolutely wonderful for never once raising his eyebrows.
[inaudible and laughter]
Frances Fyfield: He has a quiet face and he keeps it still and…
Andrew Davies: Yes. He’s always seemed to have this kind of curious integrity. You just kind of trust him, you know, like in a movie like “Miller’s Crossing,” where you never know which side he’s on but you know you’re on his side and that’s what he carries with him. Yeah, I knew he was attached when I started writing and I was just thrilled because if you read the books attentively you’ll see especially in this book Quirke is described as being a very big man, six foot four or something like that, and fair-haired. And I never kind of believed that. I thought: No, Quirke looks much more like, oh, Gabriel Byrne or someone. It was enormously helpful adapting the script to think that’s who is going to be playing him.
John Alexander: I think as well as an understanding of the character, he understood the whole history of Ireland, the whole Irish background.
Frances Fyfield: … yes, he embodies the involvement of the hero that might be very flawed but “down these mean streets a man must go who is not mean.”
Andrew Davies: Yeah. Sure.
Frances Fyfield: Only Gabriel Byrne could play that. Have we got one more question?
Audience Member: Can I ask John Banville: You’ve been imagining these books in your head over a number of years and now you see somebody else’s imagining of the same books and stories. What’s it like, seeing the difference, and do you think that difference will affect the way you write future books on the same subjects?
John Banville: Oh, well, I mean I am completely screen-struck, so when I see real people embodying my characters, I’m completely undone, I’m just thrilled by it. Always am. Have been from the very start. I always feel with a–I don’t know, we were talking about this earlier today–I’m very impatient with writers who constantly whine about Hollywood and how they betray and destroy (?or maybe betray the story?). Gore Vidal beautifully said you know Hollywood never destroyed anybody worth saving. [laughter]…they went to Hollywood to take the money and run. And if you give your book up to the screen to be made into this big popular medium, then that’s what you do… My policy always is I say it’s now your baby and your translating it to your medium and it fascinates me to watch the way it which it…but I never feel–of course I knew to some extent watching it through …but I recognize after two or three minutes [inaudible]. It’s mine but in a peculiar way it’s not mine at all.
Frances Fyfield: This is like a new creature reborn and I’m sure the audience will join forces with me in saying congratulations to all of you …[inaudible]. Bloody well done.
Here is the audio of the preview screening and panel for the first episode of Quirke held at the BFI Southbank in London on June 20.
The panel was moderated by well-known mystery writer and novelist Frances Fyfield.
Panelists include: original author John Banville (AKA Benjamin Black), writer and adapter Andrew Davies, director John Alexander, and actor Aisling Franciosi, who plays Phoebe in the series.
This video is really audio only and the audio quality is a bit spotty, so be sure to turn up your speakers.