The film For Those In Peril, a great mix of drama and folklore is nothing of what one might expect. Director Paul Wright does a wonderful job at telling a story about a quiet sea town on the coast of Scotland and a tragedy that has deeply affected them all. The film was widely recognized for its vivid display of emotion and drama as it won the category for best feature film and best film actor award for George Mackay at the Scottish BAFTAs.
The story is ultimately about a boy, Aaron, who returns back to his remote town in Scotland, as the sole survivor of a fishing accident that left five others dead – one of which was his older brother. Aaron finds himself caught in an internal struggle trying to accept his brother’s death as he also deals with trying to be a man in a town that sees him as a little boy.
For Those In Peril serves as a personal look into some of the stories and tragedies of these forgotten old Scottish seaside towns. These towns that found themselves struggling with loss, beliefs and finding support in each other. The tale finds itself exploring the themes of grieving, mental illness, and the power of mythology. I got a chance to sit down with Paul Wright to look more into why he wanted to explore this type of narrative and how the film progressed through his direction and writing.
Angela: How would you describe your film?
Paul: The core of the film is about making it a love story about these two brothers; an unconventional love story really. Given this tragedy that’s happened in the village, it focuses on this one character and how he misses his brother. I was interested in showcasing the different aspects of losing someone. It’s this story about exploring the grieving process and how this younger brother is daydreaming of a reunion with the brother that he has lost again. I lost my father when I was 15 and I think I was at the age that although I understood what happened I didn’t totally accept it – the finality of death. I thought it was a very interesting thing to explore with the film.
A: Yes, so I guess that will bring me to my next question, which is how you came up with the premise for this film? I guess it was more of a personal thing…
P: Well it was totally conscious to be honest – that factor. I grew up in a similar village in the east coast of Scotland. The sea was part of every day life and it was always there and with that comes the stories of the sea that are passed down through generations so that was something that really interested me. I wanted to explore that area that isn’t very much explored. I think the coast of Scotland is an underused place for film in the UK and I wanted to show the fact that there are different stories to be told in these different areas.
A: Yes, I definitely agree. Scottish coastal films are few and far between and it was a pleasant change to see this type of film.
P: Exactly, thank you. That’s what I wanted to do – kind of show people who are not familiar with these areas more of what life is like there.
A: Throughout the film you used sporadic narration and these video flashbacks. Why did you decide to use this method instead of just allowing the dialogue to tell the story?
P: I think it was always the idea to present this portrait of a character and show the different states of mind of the character. It’s more like real life, to me. The film is showing memories and thoughts of what may happen. I wanted to blur the lines of reality a bit; whether it’s a dream world, memories, or fears of the character. Also, we were hoping to make a visceral film, a really sensory film – to have a whole palette of images and sounds we could use to build the film and progress the character and the narrative itself.
A: The relationship between Aaron and Jane is an interesting one in the story. What were you trying to achieve with the connection of these two characters that were both feeling an immense pain of losing someone they loved?
P: I wanted to play with that a bit because they come together with this shared experience of losing Aaron’s brother. It was almost as each of them were using each other as this substitute for something that was missing in their life.
A: I guess it’s kind of up to the viewer to decide what the two characters relationship is…
P: Yeah, for sure. I don’t want to define it as one thing or the other. It was quite an interesting relationship to explore, seeing how far that relationship will go.
A: I did notice that the female characters in the story are softer characters. They had more sympathy for the situation and this boy, who is dealing with the fact that he went on this fishing trip and he’s the only one who came back. The male characters on the other hand are a bit harsh and not really sympathetic to the situation. They almost blame him in a sense. Did you mean to define these roles between genders?
P: I don’t know if it was as conscious as that. The starting place for the film was having this character that was a part of this tough town or village – mans man village. He was different. It was kind of this sensitive soul who didn’t really fit in with this model of the real toughness of the masculinity of the location. Also, his mother was an important character in the story as Aaron and her were the only ones left in the family – exploring their relationship and how it changes throughout the film and the complexities that and how they’re both grieving in different ways.
A: Yes, I saw that right away – how the men in the town didn’t take him very seriously and kind of put down his capabilities.
P: Yeah, it was an ongoing theme in the story. This idea with the myth embedded in the story where Aaron has to go back in time to his child years where he belived these kind of stories and myths like children do. He had to kind of go back to that state of mind to make that more reality, ya know what I mean. He’s on the cusp of boy turning into a man basically. The pressure is on him to man up and him going the opposite way causes this friction in the village.
A: Was it about him trying to get back to his childhood days because he wanted to go back to the great memories he had with his brother?
P: Well since the brother was no longer in the picture it was a way to have the brother present in the film somehow with these childhood memories. Also to give the audience a more authentic look into their relationship and show it was a complicated relationship as well.
A: So how did you go about choosing actors for this film?
P: Well for George, who plays Aaron, he sent in a self-tape because he was working on another film at the time. We were kind of blown away from his talent. I had been lucky enough to work with Kate, who plays the mother and Michael Smiley, who plays Jane’s father, in some short film work so I knew what they could give to the story. I think it was about getting actors that could fill these characters who could go either way. They had lightness to them but also a possibility of darkness – playing with these roles that could either way.
A: It’s a surprise ending. Did you initially want to do that?
P: The theme of this film explores how the main character needs a miracle basically and it was having that as a starting place. For sure, it was always the plan to make the ending open-ended where you could read it the way you want, either literally or figuratively.
A: When you were writing it, did you write the story around this myth or is that something you put in later?
P: Well yeah, it was something that came first and the story kind of built around that.
A: Was this a story that you know from your childhood?
P: Yes, similar. Most coastal villages in Scotland there are these stories that come with the sea. The one in the film was written for the film and it’s not really a story but yeah there are definitely similar stories that I grew up with so it resonated with me. I thought it was really interesting how 100 years ago people believe in these very strongly and it wasn’t as clear cut that these were just stories – a blurring of the lines almost.
Words by Angela Markovic
For Those In Peril is out on DVD on March 3.