December Bride

Based on the novel by Sam Hanna Bell.

1989 Little Bird.
Director: Thaddeus O'Sullivan.

Frank: Ciaran Hinds
Hamilton: Donal McCann
Sarah: Saskia Reeves

Sarah, servant to two brothers on their remote Ulster farm, becomes mistress to one of them then also to the other. In spite of pressure from the local Presbyterian community, she refuses to identify either man as the father of her child, or to marry either. Only at the end of her life, under pressure from the daughter herself, does Sarah agree to wed.

I was originally called in to do a quick 'fix' on the existing script for this film: finance had unexpectedly become available, and pre-production was due to begin within ten days. I very soon found that the existing script (by a film-maker much beloved by English critics) had not mediated the book at all - it was in fact an insult to the book and the craft; a completely new adaptation was called for. I locked myself away in a Welsh hotel, and worked a new First Draft Screenplay in just over a week, photocopying my manuscript at a local estate-agent's to send off by mail to the producers in daily instalments. (No e-mail in those days...) This was to prove the first of some dozen Draft Screenplays, as O'Sullivan and myself began to realize the implications of the challenge we had taken on. It was as well that, in the event and for other reasons, production had to be postponed.

The issue was not only how to do justice onscreen to an important and richly-textured book by a writer of the stature of an Irish Thomas Hardy. There was a political responsibility too: to identify rural Ulster Protestant culture as an authentic Irish tradition. As a son of that culture myself, I could approach this dimension from within; and to be doing so, in collaboration with a director of Catholic Republican inheritance, was doubly appropriate, given how polarized at that time the Irish discourse was. But there was a further dimension, beyond the Irish - a European frame of reference: the pastoral-domestic tradition of French and (particularly) Scandinavian cinema. This aspect of the film is comprehensively analyzed by Lance Pettitt in his monograph for the series Ireland into Film. See Bibliography.

The European Film Festival Special Award for December Bride has a curious history. The jury, among whom were Jeanne Moreau and Ingmar Bergman, felt that the film deserved an award, but all individual categories had already been spoken for. They called for the film to be screened for them again, and decided on this 'special' award for the film as a whole.

European Film Festival 1989 Jury Special Award.