Bermondsey Tales World Premiere

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Bermondsey Tales: Fall of the Roman Empire has been written and directed by Michael Head, who also plays a part in it. The tales told are loosely based on the stories he heard from and around his granddad, writes Michael Holland.

The writer remembers growing up in pubs where adults were, perhaps, ‘on the wrong side of the law’ and spoke about being in prison and how they got there, ‘but the stories would always be funny,’ he recalls. ‘That aspect of that world is rarely depicted in gangster films, which are mainly violent and macho,’ he explains. 

Now, all those stories overheard when out with granddad and his mates have all been gathered up and woven into a narrative about a fictitious family – The Romans. ‘I wanted to make a gangster film that people will watch and say, “That was really funny”.’

Michael goes on to list films and filmmakers that have inspired him while using comedy in a serious context: Love, Honour, Obey; Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino, Scorsese, The Sopranos… 

Head is a prolific writer, his previous film, The Last Heist, was written in eight hours, and Bermondsey Tales in fifteen, ‘but then there’s the continual tweaking over a couple of months with a final rewrite once it’s cast.’ He revealed that when John Hannah was cast as The Postman a lot of the dialogue was changed to fit the actor.

‘More change comes when actors suggest ideas or want to improvise – Look, I always say there’s the film you write, the film you shoot, and the film you edit. If you end up with a film that is strictly to script you have lost a trick cos it’s about collaborating with the actors having a bit of creative freedom.’ Frank Harper asked if he could improvise a scene and later disclosed, ‘That was very handy cos I hadn’t learnt my lines!’

The film has been funded by Seraphim Films who Michael has a lot of praise for. ‘They were going to fund half but when the other funding fell through, Rohit Nathaniel, the Seraphim CEO and film’s Executive Producer, came through and gave us the rest – We were very, very lucky.’ 

He goes on to say how Seraphim did not question creativity, the script or casting, and how, with the budget they had to work with, between them they’ve made a good film. Rohit also appears in the film as Tom. 

A lot of the film was shot in Bermondsey, which is what Michael wanted. ‘We shot up by The Den, down The Blue, in Long Lane and in the Ancient Foresters, which is where me granddad got married – and got nicked on the night of his wedding!’

Michael was keen to talk about the cast he has put together and as he listed the names it was a who’s who of staunch British actors from TV and cinema with years of experience: Frank Harper, Maisie Smith, Gary Webster, Daniel O’Reilly, Adam Deacon, Alan Ford, Linda Robson, Vas Blackwood, Vicki Michelle… 

Frank Harper says that Michael ‘stalked’ him on Facebook to get him to take the part and the director laughingly agrees. ‘But when I read the script I knew it was a good role – plus, the film has a lot of my mates in it and is hilarious.’

This is Michael’s first go at directing film, having developed his skills in theatre, but he wasn’t fazed by the task. In fact he felt ‘blessed’, because with such an experienced ensemble of actors he literally told them to ‘do what you do’.

I asked how the directing role came about: ‘I blagged it!’ Was his immediate answer, explaining that the original director suddenly cancelled, so, with Rohit Nathaniel’s blessing, he took the job on. ‘“How hard could it be?” I asked meself, then watched a few StudioBinder videos on YouTube to get the basics.’ Really? ‘Well, I knew that the Director of Photography and cast and crew were all brilliant so I’d have to be really bad to cock it up, wouldn’t I?’ 

Being so close to shooting, Michael reckoned that as a lot of money had already been spent on getting Bermondsey Tales up and running ‘it was a case of being hundred grand down or blag it – And blag it won.’ He laughs loudly at the memory. 

He has since been asked to direct another film off the back of his first, so ‘blagging it’ was the right choice.

After this, Michael, Frank Harper and others will be setting up SE1 Films ‘to make well-scripted, well-cast, well-made working-class stories that people want to see’. 

These are films I definitely want to see.

Tickets for the May 9th World Premiere at O2:

In selected cinemas from May 17th. Streaming from June 10th.


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