Allan Scott wrote the excellent screenplay from Pat Barker’s award winning novel, REGENERATION. Mainly set in a hospital for shellshocked patients during World War One, it tells of the meeting between poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.
The doctor and father figure is Dr. Rivers, played beautifully by Jonathan Pryce. His job is to heal these young men, only to return them to the front. I had always felt haunted by this war which seemed to have turned my grandfather into the silent man I knew. It was a dream when Allan Scott, also producer, invited me to deal with this subject.
On a budget of about £3m, Production Designer Andy Harris did a brilliant job. Andy and I have made a lot of movies together. When you find someone as good as this, with whom you share a common language and sensibility, you want to keep working with that person. It was also the first film cut by the brilliant editor Pia Di CiauIa, who has since cut seven of my films.
Jonny Lee Miller gave a passionate performance as Billy Prior. The first night he and Jonathan Pryce worked together I alerted Jonathan to the fact that Jonny was going to be a live wire. They did the first take of a scene where Prior confronts Rivers. I was disappointed to see that Jonny was tuned way down, as if out of courtesy to the more experienced actor. I reminded him that Pat Barker had written his character to get under the skin of the doctor and father figure. On the second take Jonny came to life like a volcano and I could see the surprise in Jonathan’s eyes. After that they sparked off beautifully together.
This very serious film about traumatised young soldiers, death, loss and poetry did, for some unknown reason, set me off into fits of uncontrollable giggles on several occasions, always in the middle of a take.
Once it was when an officer held a dachshund in his arms which kept farting. I lost it and started to slide off my seat, both hands muffling my face. I just held it together until the end of the scene.
Another time, Jonathan mimed driving a car which was actually stationary. Men were rocking it to represent movement, others were dancing like Morris Dancers round the car with branches of ‘dingle’ to represent passing lights. Jonathan was driving, looking very serious as this mayhem went on around him and, again, I lost it. On ‘Cut’ I was giggling uncontrollably and Jonathan was puzzled. I tried to explain, but subsided into worse giggling, literally sinking to my knees. He just shook his head and walked away.
No matter how much control you may exert, things always go wrong and a massive set was wiped out overnight when part of the roof collapsed in the studio and a week’s work had to be relocated in a state of emergency. Making films is really not glamorous. You mostly reel from one crisis to the next, or spend your nights in freezing muddy trenches, thanking fate that you are only recreating WWI, and nobody is shooting at you.
Pia Di Claula and I cut a shorter version of REGENERATION (easier to digest) for North America. I later learned they re-named it BEHIND THE LINES for some bewildering reason.