Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

After a long development phase, over six months, I was getting restless as none of the films were succeeding in finding their money. One day I found a script waiting for me with two names on it… Jimmy McGovern and Mary Queen of Scots.

I had wanted to work with one of Jimmy’s scripts again for a long time. And my secondary School in Glasgow was located in Battlefield, the site of Mary’s final battle. Throughout my childhood she was a romantic ghost on the hill above the school, forever watching the battle.

This would be two TV films back to back, the other part being about James First, who Bobby Carlyle had agreed to play… it couldn’t look any better. I met with producers Gub Neal and Willy Wands. When I learned the budget, schedule, and that they would be shooting in Romania, I told Willy (an old colleague from THE ESCAPIST) that it would be hell -”…but we like hell, don’t we Willy?” He gave me a sceptical look and said -”No, Gillies, you like hell”. But I know Willy does likes hell really, whether or not he admits it and soon, with troubles on the floor, Willy the producer stepped in as Willy the first assistant director and ran the floor, pulling the crew together and making it possible.

Once we committed, things took a turn for the worse when the BBC withdrew half a million pounds from the budget. This placed us in a state of emergency and, I can honestly say, this was the toughest shoot I have yet encountered. Our backs were always, up against the wall, every day. Nigel Willoughby saved our bacon, lighting fast and beautifully. So did designer Andy Harris, who pulled together a disparate crew of Brits and Romanians and built period exterior streets and interior palaces on the Bucharest set. Special mention to editor Pia Di Ciaula again, who cut two films beautifully on a much diminished schedule. Seriously, when you are in trouble you need to be surrounded by the best people who contribute, know what is required and take responsibility and never resort to complaining.

Casting the film was a treat. I needed a very young French actress to play Mary and found Clemence Posey, who turned twenty one during the shoot. She found all the qualities for Mary – fragile beauty, spirit, even youthful arrogance. Playing opposite her as Bothwell I was blessed with the wonderful Kevin McKidd, who I have worked with on SMALL FACES (gang leader Malky Johnson), REGENERATION (soldier being cured with electricity), HIDEOUS KINKY (Danish hitchhiker, Henning, dying of sunstroke). In fact I brought in lain Robertson, Stephen Duffy and Garry Sweeney, all from the SMALL FACES cast.

When Gary Lewis turned up on set to play John Knox with long grey hair and a beard I didn’t recognise him. The whole cast was fuelled up and ready to give it 100%, and this is a great pleasure for a director. I made the decision to cast the film young – just because it is a period drama doesn’t make the characters old. We wanted the energy that hungry young actors can provide.

Another special pleasure was working with Bobby Carlisle for the first time. He is the kind of actor I love – prepared, committed, coming in with his own agenda, but never failing to communicate and listen. This dynamic stimulates me to come up with my best notes as director.

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