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Preview: Beast Preview Screening and Q&A at Broadway Cinema

20 April 18 interview: Ashley Carter

Ahead of the preview screening and Q&A of his debut feature Beast this Saturday at Broadway Cinema, we had a quick chat with director Michael Pearce... 

On the eve of the cinema release of your first feature, it can’t get much better for a director than having your film labeled as a “masterclass” by The Guardian.  But that’s the reality facing Michael Pearce, whose highly anticipated debut Beast is released this month. “It feels great,” said Pearce, who will be present at an advanced screening and Q&A at Broadway Cinema this Saturday, April 21st,  “it’s a validation that all of your hard work has been worth it.” 

Moll (Jessie Buckley, Taboo, War and Peace) is 27 and still living at home, stifled by the small island community around her and too beholden to her family to break away. When she meets Pascal, a free-spirited stranger, a whole new world opens up to her and she begins to feel alive for the first time, falling madly in love. Finally breaking free from her family, Moll moves in with Pascal (Johnny Flynn, Clouds of Sils Maria) to start a new life. But when he is arrested as the key suspect in a series of brutal murders, she is left isolated and afraid. “She chooses to defend him,” Pearce says,  “but he might not be Prince Charming, he might be the big bad wolf.”

Pearce, who was born and raised in Jersey, where the film is set, claims that the Island plays a significant role in the story.  “It’s loosely inspired by the case of a man called the ‘Beast of Jersey’ who committed a lot of horrific crimes in the 1960s,” said the BAFTA nominated director.  “He actually had a wife and kids, and was a functional member of the community. Growing up in Jersey as a kid in the 80s, he was a spectre that haunted the island.”  Whilst Beast isn’t strictly based on that specific case, Pearce says that, “it is there in the subtext, because even as a kid it showed me that monsters aren’t just in story books, they do exist. They’re real people, they could be your next-door neighbor or even your partner.”

I didn’t want it to be a small, intimate film shot for £50,000. I wanted to have bigger ambitions than that

As well as inspiring the narrative, the geographical setting of Jersey helped influence the nature of the film, “The characters do struggle with being trapped on the island. Someone pointed out that it’s a bit like a prison break movie. The ocean features quite a bit and you’re constantly reminded that they’re trapped on there.” Escape seems to be a theme that features heavily within the film, as well as the feeling of being trapped, and not just on the island, “this guy helps a girl escape from this very structured family in which she feels restrained. She’s also trapped within the confines of her family, this new dysfunctional relationship as well as being imprisoned by her own guilt.  Paradoxically, maybe she needs a monster to help her break free.”

Ten years after graduating from film school, the road to making his first feature film was far from easy for Pearce, “It was seven years from having the original idea to shooting,” the director says, “I didn’t want it to be a small, intimate film shot for £50,00. I wanted to have bigger ambitions than that.” That process naturally saw the film go through various different incarnations, a process that Pearce says challenged his own filmmaking philosophy, “Genre was very much a dirty word for me when I was at film school, but I moved toward using a more genre-based framework for the story.  I first fell in love with cinema by watching those great American movies of the 1960s and 70s, like Rosemary’s Baby, The Conversation and The Exorcist.  They’re all elevated genre films, but have so much sophistication in the way they were filmed, and so much depth and complexity to the characters, so I started to feel more at ease making a film that works within a certain genre.  We’ve tried to create a more enchanting visual language which I think makes it more seductive than a traditional, gloomy British thriller.”

It’s a process that certainly seems to have been worth it for Pearce, as Beast, which launched to wide acclaim at the Toronto International Film Festival and was nominated for First Feature at the BFI London Film Festival, gets ready to hit cinemas nationwide. The Guardian’s review wasn’t an anomaly, as Beasthas received universal praise ahead of its release, “The press has been really great with the film, which has really helped it get above the parapet.  There are so many features made that are seldom seen, but now we have the bigger challenge of being released at the same weekend as the new Avengers movie.”

Michael Pearce will be in Q&A with Chris Cooke following the preview screening of Beast at Broadway Cinema at 6pm this Saturday 21st April.  For more information and tickets, visit the Broadway Cinema website.  

Beast trailer

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