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Filmmakers Chat: Tom Harper talks War Book

August 7, 2015

Film + EntertainmentInterview | by Francesco Cerniglia


After being received successfully upon its world Premiere at the 2014 BFI London Film Festival last October, powerful thriller War Book comes to cinemas for a series of special one off event and discussion screenings taking place around the country on August 7, 8 and 9. The film will then air on BBC Four on August 11 at 10pm. You can read our glowing review here.

Written by acclaimed screenwriter Jack Thorne (The Scouting Book for Boys, This is England 86/88/90, E4’s Glue) and directed by Tom Harper (Woman in Black: Angel of Death, The Scouting Book for Boys) War Book tells the story of a chilling war game taking place between a group of government officials which exposes the fragility of everyday life and those who govern it and boasts a stellar British cast including Sophie Okonedo (After Earth, Hotel Rwanda), Phoebe Fox (The Woman in Black, One Day), Ben Chaplin (The Thin Red Line, Remains of The Day), Antony Sher (Shakespeare in Love, Mrs. Brown), Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave) and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Misfits).

Candid Magazine was given the opportunity to discuss the film with director Tom Harper and pick his brain about this peculiar piece of filmmaking and the unique story behind it.

What made you want to make this film?

Well, I’d just had another film fall through and Jack Thorne, who wrote the script, contacted me and suggested we quickly make a film together. The script was simply beautiful and I was immediately hooked. It was an unconventional project and financing was hard but at the same time the lack of funds was very freeing.

How did you manage to assemble such a well constructed cast?

I think that comes back to the brilliant script. Unusual projects like this don’t come around often and because we couldn’t afford to pay them well, they all had to do this for the love of it. The characters were also well drawn and we used contacts and people Jack and I had previously worked with.

What was the aim or intention of the wide-angle lens?

The entire film is set in such a small space and we wanted to truly make the most of it. The wide lens allowed us to fit more people in the shot hence to better frame the complex relationships which play out before your eyes.


In bringing these characters to life, how much was due to the natural chemistry of the cast?

A fair amount but I think, once again, the script made all the difference. In rehearsals we spent a lot of time ensuring everyone knew what their relationship was with everyone else in the room. We had to flesh out these characters because a lot is said by the way people reacted to other people in the room and these back-story intricacies help realize that.

Sophie Okeneda and Kery Fox both portray women who are in great places of power, they both have a strong presence on screen and both are memorable. What was it like working with them?

They are both formidable actresses with amazing talent. It was quite intimidating at first but they are both so generous and a pleasure to work with.

Why did you feel the need to add sexual tension and is Gary (played by Ben Chaplin) as sleazy a man as he seems?

The sexual element was once again to help three-dimensionalize the characters because it added to the dynamic and personal relationships in the room, by making them not merely political. It adds another layer as to how they play against one another and enriches the subject matter. Gary is pretty sleazy I’d admit but he also has a charisma and is highly intelligent. He’d be a great person to have at a dinner party and despite his sleazy pretext I hope the viewer can see past this to his redeeming features.

Some have criticized the inclusion of Adeel Akthar and Nathan Stewart-Jarett as being place- fillers, what would you say to this?

To be honest I never really thought of it. Jack and I had both worked with them before and we cast them based on our knowledge of their great acting abilities and our own personal experiences of them as people. Naturally Mo’s character would be of Indian descent but despite our acknowledgement of the lack of diversity, we didn’t cast them merely for the sake of it.


As the story plays out Tom (Shaun Evans) seems to break whilst David (Antony Sher) seems to come into his own, why does one break and the other soar?

Well, I’d argue that it is only Tom who is truly honest and realizes the gravity of the situation. He has clarity and conviction whilst David is more scarred by his past and acting instinctively as a consequence. Yet this is up to interpretation as we didn’t want War Book to be a preachy film.

Matthew Hoy

War Book screens in UK cinemas on August 7-8-9 and airs on BBC Four on August 11 at 10pm.


Friday August 7th: BFI Southbank (London)

Saturday August 8th:
Art House Crouch End (London)
Rio Dalston (London)
Phoenix Picturehouse Oxford
Cambridge Picturehouse

Sunday August 9th: Empire Walthamstow (London) Picturehouse Central (London)