CINEMA / The British are coming (again)

A year after `Four Weddings', another charming British comedy is a hit. Sue Summers meets the director of `Jack and Sarah'

THE SUCCESS of Four Weddings and a Funeral has cast a long shadow over the younger generation of British film-makers. Any new production with ambitions to show the British middle class at its most scatty is bound to be tagged Four Weddings and a Funeral II.

The director and writer Tim Sullivan was resigned well before its premiere to the idea that his engaging first feature film, Jack and Sarah, could well be nicknamed One Funeral, One Baby and A Wedding. There are inevitable comparisons to be made with Four Weddings in the antics of its middle- class thirtysomethings, who have effortlessly large incomes, and live in north-London terraced houses. And both films have the same backer, Polygram. Even the surname of the leading man is the same - not Hugh Grant in this case, but Richard E. So confident is MGM of the potency of this mixture that it has just announced an unprecedented money-back offer for cinema-goers who don't enjoy Jack and Sarah.

In fact, Sullivan's film - the biggest-grossing hit in Britain this week after Hollywood's Brady Bunch - has little in common with the Richard Curtis comedy which took the world by storm last year. Jack and Sarah is more of a comi-tragedy, about a man who loses his wife in childbirth and is left alone to bring up their baby daughter.

It took Sullivan four years to make Jack and Sarah, which germinated from an experience he had when working as a director at Granada TV. "A friend of mine's childcare arrangements broke down and his wife was away, so he brought his six-month-old baby into work," he says. "Until that day he had been just an ordinary bloke, but suddenly he was the centre of attention - particularly with the women. And of course, one of the first things they did was take the child off him, as though he couldn't cope.

"It just amused me - as did the fact that he immediately seemed to become more attractive to women. If you start from the basis that all men are inherently shits - which many women believe and I do myself - when you see one with a baby, he seems more vulnerable and almost like an exception to the rule. Which he isn't.

"By the end of the film my hero, Jack, is still as sexistly irresponsible as he was at the beginning. He is taking the nanny just as much for granted as he would a wife. There was no way I was going to let that character became a saint or a New Man. That would be real fantasy."

Sullivan, 37, is tall, dark and deadpan, with - though he hotly denies it - a striking resemblance to Richard E Grant. Yes, he lives in a north- London terraced house with wooden floors and a designer kitchen (which has marked similarities to the main set of his movie), and his baby daughter, Sophia, appears in the film. But unlike his hero, he has been happily married for the past six years. He doesn't claim to be a New Man: he says he is as much of a "shit" as the next man. But he is the one who works from home - within earshot of Sophia, now two, and Isabella, three - while his wife, Rachel Purnell, labours as joint head of programmes for the new cable channel, Live TV.

Born in Germany to a father in the RAF, Sullivan went to Clifton College and then to Cambridge - he read English and Law- just ahead of Emma Thompson. "In my last term, I worked on Chariots of Fire, providing extras for them, and I thought I was made," he says. "I spent my 21st birthday showing the film's director, Hugh Hudson, round Cambridge, thinking, `This is my introduction to the film industry'." Things weren't quite that easy. He had a spell on the dole before getting a summer job as chauffeur to Anthony Andrews, driving the actor to and from Granada's lavish production of Brideshead Revisited. "Its producer, Derek Granger, was intrigued, because I used to sit in the car all day, scribbling away. He learned that I was writing a script with Derek Jarman and encouraged me to go and see Granada."

Granada was then the ITV forcing-house for new talent. Sullivan was lucky enough to be taken on, and learnt his trade directing everything from farming programmes to Coronation Street. He made the drama-documentary Thatcher's Final Days with Sylvia Syms, and adapted both Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust and Where Angels Fear to Tread for the big screen, before Granada's feature-film division commissioned him to write Jack and Sarah.

Raising the film's pounds 2.5m budget was not easy. Potential backers disdainfully turned the project down on the grounds that it was too commercial - a judgement which only the British film and television industry would be capable of making. "I don't want to sound either arrogant or whingey - the twin traps for British film-makers - but there's no money from Channel 4, the BBC or any British television company in Jack and Sarah. Polygram made it happen and all I can say is, `Thank God for them.' It seems to me that they are doing as much, if not more, than anyone else in this country to push British film."

In retrospect, Sullivan is pleased that Jack and Sarah's original finance did fall through, because, had it been made when first planned, it would have been released in the same year as Four Weddings. "I wouldn't have liked that," he says. "Four Weddings was exceptional in every sense, really. It's hard to imagine a British film taking that much money ever again."

Nevertheless, he probably stands to benefit from the renewed belief in the commercial power of British films that is now being shown in America. Indeed he has already had approaches from Hollywood and was flown to the Cannes film festival for lunch by private jet. But can Jack and Sarah cash in on the Four Weddings fall-out? "That depends," Sullivan says, cautiously, "on whether the yardstick is going to be laid gently next to us, or used to beat us over the head."

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick