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Donald Rice

The writer-director talks about his Tribeca-bound feature directorial debut, Cheerful Weather For The Wedding.

Donald Rice makes his feature directorial debut with Cheerful Weather For The Wedding, a 1930s set drama starring Felicity Jones, Luke Treadaway and Elizabeth McGovern.

During the day of a young woman’s wedding at her family’s country manor, an old friend shows up and creates a stir, and family secrets are revealed. The film shot in Wiltshire and Somerset for 28 days.

Rice adapted the screenplay with Mary Henely-Magill (who originated the project), and developed it for several years with producer Teun Hilte. Goldcrest is handling international sales.

The film has its world premiere Friday (April 20) at the Tribeca Film Festival, which also screened both of Rice’s short films, Traffic Warden and I Am Bob.

Up next, Rice is working on a comedy reworking of Romeo & Juliet (with Tom Williams, writer of Chalet Girl), a modern reworking on an Ealing comedy, a theatre piece, and is reading other scripts.

Was Cheerful Weather a popular book in its day?

It was widely admired and attracted some quite distinguished attention. The author [Julia Strachey] was quite a prominent character on the arts scene for a long time…I think it’s fortunate it appeared in the ’30s – if it had come out much later it would’ve been coloured by the war. Also, by not being in the ‘20s, it’s just that bit more modern. I think we have a really strong connection to the ’30s now, there’s something about the ’30s which is unmistakeably modern, the book itself is very modern – well crafted, witty, sophisticated, it’s aged extremely well. It’s got obvious attractions because it’s got a big range of characters, it’s funny, and it is very modern.

Was it an attraction that some of the characters are quite tricky and not wholly likeable?

Everyone has a family that they at times adore and at times find very frustrating. You get both of those emotions when they’re all shoved in the room at once. We loved that idea of there always being something potentially about to go wrong, a little bit of anarchy around the corner, that nothing is ever quite allowed to settle. We felt that very much in the book but we wanted to push it a bit further. Things like the little boy with the confetti bombs, which just has that little effect of destabilising things so that no one is ever completely able to relax because there’s this little interference always going on. The same is there with conversation, there’s always a little bit of mischief, something being overheard, something going on in the background.

Having a big, broad range of characters was very much part of its appeal. Also, there was a big range of female characters, of all ages, and that was a big draw. There’s the mysterious nature of Dolly, who I think is very attractive and also a little bit dangerous for men, and the character Mrs Thatcham, who is exasperating and frustrating and a fusspot, but also not all bad – we quite liked that contrast.

Why offer short glimpses, not bigger chunks, of flashbacks?

It may be that some people might think, “We like that, we wish there’d be more,” people might find it frustrating. We wanted there to be just little glimpses, little memories, when things sparked off with Dolly and Joseph. I feel like the flashbacks give a little bit more texture, a little bit more depth and also a bit more colour. We filmed the winter scenes in December, so I think it’s a little bit of relief when you just get six or seven minutes of a really lovely summer beforehand.

How did you come to cast Luke and Felicity as Joseph and Dolly?

Felicity was the first person we cast and from the moment she said yes, good things started to happen. We were so flattered that she loved the script so much. Her research was extraordinary. She went to Julia Strachey’s birthplace and more.

Casting Joseph was very easy because Luke read so beautifully for it, it was an open-and-shut case. They knew each other as well, which I knew would help. They were relaxed in each other’s company.

They aren’t in that many scenes together but the moments where they are together are critical. We had to get those absolutely spot on, because we had to believe that they actually had something special together. There was that bit of ‘x factor’ that only actors can bring, that little bit of alchemy was just superb.

Did you cast Elizabeth McGovern before Downton Abbey took off?

We cast her before Downton had come out. We had no idea then how big Downton was going to be…In some ways people will say, ‘Oh this is another period thing.’ But this is a drastically different role for her. And I think it’s an exciting one. We could have cast this role as someone much less sympathetic and possibly even something of a battle-axe. She’s got real strength but she never made Mrs Thatcham totally unappealing. She was keen to keep that little bit of sympathy for her.

You’ve done shorts and TV, did you learn a lot with your first feature or did you feel prepared from day one?

The shorts were both quite ambitious in terms of the scale and everything but nothing really prepared me for it. I don’t think it can, you go from first gear to fifth gear. There doesn’t seem to be any way that you can ease yourself into it. I think you only have a certain amount of inexperience and then it’s gone. And sometimes that inexperience is a good thing. My DoP, John Lee, was a fantastic choice, I relied on him a lot. It helped that he was my age, it was his first feature also. It was also my editor’s first feature, Mary’s first feature – it was a lot of us in the same boat.

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