A Devil And An Angel, In Love In 'Brighton Rock' A new adaptation of Graham Greene's novel of crime and romance, starring Andrea Riseborough and directed by Rowan Joffe, transplants the action from the pre-World War II era in England to the year 1964, and in doing so highlights the tension of a new generation coming into power.
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A Devil And An Angel, In Love In 'Brighton Rock'

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A Devil And An Angel, In Love In 'Brighton Rock'

A Devil And An Angel, In Love In 'Brighton Rock'

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SCOTT SIMON, host: The film "Brighton Rock" opens with a phone booth and a foggy night, 1964. There's a gangster who pleads for help as two armed assassins chase him down a rainy street. His associate is a teenage boy named Pinkie Brown. Now he can't stop his friend's murder, but he vows to avenge his death and take over the horse-racing racket from the mob boss who ordered the hit. But then a girl shows up and upsets Pinkie's plans to dominate the town of Brighton.

Andrea Riseborough plays the girl in Pinkie's life. Rowan Joffe is the screenwriter and director of the new film of "Brighton Rock." Andrea Riseborough joins us from the studios of the BBC in London. Thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: And Rowan Joffe is at BBC studios in Norwich, England. Thank you very much for being with us, Mr. Joffe.

ROWAN JOFFE: My pleasure.

SIMON: Do you think of "Brighton Rock" as a Graham Greene novel or the film in which Sir Richard Attenborough, who was not a sir at that moment, starred in so many years ago, 1947.

JOFFE: Well, I have to say before I answer that, that was a splendid pitch.


JOFFE: It might get a potential investor in the movie, Scott. I think I would have got my checkbook out. No, it's a good description of the noire atmosphere that we tried to stamp on every frame of the movie right from the beginning. And therefore, I suppose to answer your question, it's very much an adaptation of the novel. And the novel was spawned by Greene's intrigue in the world of true crime stories of the 30s.

SIMON: Ms. Riseborough?


SIMON: Did you read the novel?

RISEBOROUGH: Yes I did. I mean it was actually one of the Graham Greene novels that I wanted to read for a very long time. But I'm a ferocious reader so it was one of the ones that I hadn't read. I did start to read it when Rowan and I embarked on the project. And I'd try. And I'd say god Rowan, I'm just not sure if this is really helping it slightly. Inner workings of Pinkie's brain I don't need to know his diatribe. I need to focus more on what Rose believes, which is that he's utterly in love with her because she wants to believe it. And Rowan said my god, what are you doing? Stop, stop reading.

SIMON: It sounds like you couldn't let the novel get in the way when you were playing the character Rose.

RISEBOROUGH: There are some many things that you need to know. On a film set you may wake up and get picked up at 5:30 in the morning, give birth, be 40, the 35, be 12 and then have lunch. And then you in the afternoon cry a bit, you know, kind of die and give birth again. Who knows? Within all of that and keeping tabs on where you are within the landscape of the piece, the last thing that you need to know are things that you'll only have to then later forget artistically. And Rowan was very supportive and protective of that, because it enabled a far more innocent performance.


SAMMY RILEY: (as Pinkie Brown) I like you so I'm going to warn you. This bloke I I.D.'d was mixed up in stuff.

RISEBOROUGH: (as Rose) What stuff?

RILEY: Never mind what stuff. You heard of Peggy Baron, right? She got herself mixed up with the mob and they came after her.

RISEBOROUGH: Why kill her?

RILEY: She won't keep her mouth shut so they splashed acid in her face. She lost an eye.


SIMON: The novel and the earlier film take place in 1930s England. World War II is right over the horizon. Why did you transplant the story into the 1960s?

JOFFE: Greene himself said that of all his novels, "Brighton Rock" was the one least informed by the documentary reality of the time.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

JOFFE: And in fact, what's extraordinary about the book is its prescient. It certainly depicts a dominant youth and depicts a war between that youth and tradition and older generations and authority. And therefore it seemed like an iconic time to set the book. In filming times would be 1964, because of the famous modern raucous riots in heavily inverted commoners because they weren't really riots, certainly not by modern London standards, contemporary London standards, where we've just suffered very real and very widely spread riots.

But there was a sense definitely that Pinkie's story was the story of youth overturning tradition. And that 1964 is so visually exemplary of that particular battle that I couldn't think of a better backdrop.

SIMON: Ms. Riseborough, let me ask you about Pinkie Brown. This was the character played by Richard Attenborough in the 1947 film, very memorably, and played very well by Sam Riley in this film. Pinkie's a rotten kid.


SIMON: Seventeen, not very worldly or wise. I think we can fairly say vicious. Why does Rose love him?

RISEBOROUGH: Rose has come from almost total obscurity in the sense that she has no want or even need to be noticed. In fact, she actively fights against being noticed. At the opening sequence, Rose's opening sequence, during that scene she's approached in a mildly sexual way by another character and it's incredibly uncomfortable for her. And going from that kind of existence to be recognized as an interesting individual, from one somebody might have any affiliation with, and especially a guy who is incredibly charismatic and dashing and charming and dynamic and almost otherworldly, that they feel drawn to her. It's just the most exciting time of her life.


RILEY: I'm trying to help you. Why can't you understand that?

RISEBOROUGH: I do. If it weren't for you. I trust you, Pinkie, honestly I do. I...


RISEBOROUGH: A perfect example of the moment as she watches Pinkie recording a record that he gives to her. And that's the most blissful moment. And people have since said that must've been so, so harrowing. And I said, well, of course, it wasn't. She had no idea what he was saying and it was the most beautiful, exciting thing - the idea of what he might be saying.


RILEY: They've asked me to make a record in my voice. Well, here it is. What you want me to say is I love you.

JOFFE: I think Andrea's interpretation of Rose, and Rose herself, is right. You know, Greene is often described as having penned a portrait of pure evil in Pinkie. And nothing could be further from the truth. I mean first off Greene was a Catholic and therefore would have found the idea of pure evil and humanity as slightly oxymoronic. Humanity is always capable of redemption.

And there is a vein of gold in Pinkie and that vein of gold is a troubled tenderness towards Rose. And that means that the extraordinary and unpredictable end of the movie that I don't wish to give away can really be seen in two ways. It can be seen as a coincidence or it can be seen as a miracle. And you have to remember that we're watching an adaptation of a writer who believed in miracles.

SIMON: We're speaking with Rowan Joffe who is the director, and the actor Andrea Riseborough, about their new film "Brighton Rock." Without explaining too much, Pinkie tries to romance Rose, and he has an interest to keep her from talking about something that she's seen. How do you turn that into romantic tension?

JOFFE: I suppose there are two levels that an audience can relate to a thriller on. The first is that they themselves are busy putting the puzzle together. And the other level is that they've put the puzzle together but the protagonist in question in this case, Rose, hasn't. And that is the very primal thrill that an audience has of wanting to cheer a screen look behind you. And that's really where the tension in "Brighton Rock" comes from in my view. It's a simple case of Rose's blissful ignorance being something that puts her in acute danger.

But I think it also is enriched by the idea of a love story betwixt a demon and an angel. And I think in some ways that's what "Brighton Rock" is, and it's not often discussed in those terms, but that was the primary reason why I wanted to make it. There was a moment in the book - and in the film where Pinkie says to Rose, I'm bad. You're good. We're made for each other. And that is, if you like, the extremely dark and noirish version of you complete me. But it's central to the story, and just the juxtaposition of good and evil produces its own tension.

RISEBOROUGH: You know, Rose is naive, certainly. But her naivety is pure. She's not weak. Angels aren't weak. She has an incredible amount of strength - inner strength and loyalty and I think his interest in her becomes a love of sorts, I truly believe - and this is my objective opinion, outside of Rose - because there's nobody really who has ever been as - who's loved him as selflessly. She loves him in an unconditional way, which he respects, I think, and I think there is a love that then is reciprocated because of that.

SIMON: The film "Brighton Rock" opens this weekend. Rowan Joffe is the director and the screenwriter. Andrea Riseborough stars in the film. And they joined us from BBC studios in Norwich and in London. Thank you both so very much.

JOFFE: Thank you.

RISEBOROUGH: Thank you, Scott.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) There's a storm coming, you better run. There's a storm coming...

SIMON: You can see clips from the film on our website, npr.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: There's a ship that sailing out in the night.

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