As soon as Michael Winterbottom completes one project, he is talking about the next. That is why he has been able to make 20 films since 1995, a rate that makes Woody Allen look like a snail. Trishna, his India-set adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Tess Of The d'Urbervilles, had its world premier at the Toronto Film Festival in September. Now Winterbottom is thinking about Amanda Knox, the US student recently acquitted of the murder of her British flatmate Meredith Kercher. Last year, the director attended one of the court hearings in Perugia and revealed that he was making a film.
"Well I don't really want to talk about the result of the appeal," he tells me, days after Knox's return to Seattle, insisting that the result has not scuppered his project. "We are still working on the screenplay. The idea doesn't depend on the verdict. It's starting from the point of view that you can never really know in a case with such conflicting evidence what the truth is. The film is about the way in which a case like this is covered, why we all have such a great interest in it and how the medial deals with crimes like this."
Colin Firth, who was directed by Winterbottom in Genova, will reputedly star, although the 50-year-old director says: "Colin has been involved with the project from the beginning, but I'm not sure whether he'd actually be involved in it if we ever made it. Colin came out to Perugia with us to talk to some of the journalists. But at this stage, we don't have a script and we don't know what that script will be about, or who the characters will be, so it's impossible to know who is going to be cast in the end."
He says the fact that Firth has an Italian wife and spends so much of his time in Italy may mean he will not want to be part of the project in the end. Winterbottom has focused on journalists before, in A Mighty Heart, about the kidnapping and murder in Pakistan of the Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl, and in Welcome To Sarajevo, which is based on the true story of Michael Nicholson, a British reporter who rescued a young orphan from Bosnia's war zone.
Repetition is something that Winterbottom embraces. Trishna seems to be the result of throwing all of his films into a curry pot. "It's funny you should say that," he says. "When we were working on the film in the edit, someone said that as well. It borrows a little here and there. That's what I always do when I run out of ideas. I guess I'd better stop before I repeat myself in every film."
Trishna is Winterbottom's third adaptation of a Thomas Hardy novel; in 1996 Jude The Obscure became Jude, starring Kate Winslet and Christopher Eccleston; in 2000 The Mayor Of Casterbridge was renamed The Claim and set in 1860s California. The Rajasthan-set Trishna is his most enjoyable Hardy yet. Winterbottom is not the first director to see the parallels between the world of classic British novels and contemporary India. Gurinder Chadha adapted Jane Austen for Bride & Prejudice and there has been a plethora of Bollywood adaptations of British novels. "I'm a little bit aware of this phenomenon," says Winter-bottom. "I don't really have much knowledge of Bollywood. But if you take someone like Hardy, he's writing a big long novel, which is serialised
every month to start with, and so it needs a big arc. It needs a lot of melodrama, lots of stories and so on. That becomes a problem when you come to do a film of his book. That kind of melodrama, the sheer amount of plot can be so hard to do. I guess in Bollywood films melodrama is not such a problem."
Winterbottom has compressed the novel by amalgamating some of the characters. "I think Jay, played by Riz [Ahmed], is quite a tricky character because he's a combination of Angel and Alec from the book. He has to fall in love with her in a way that Alec might – she's beautiful and desire is there. But then he drifts into a position where he turns Trishna into a kind of slave or prostitute."
The Slumdog Millionaire star Frieda Pinto plays the title role. The rest of the cast is made up of non-actors. Winterbottom says: "I suppose, especially for me working in India, one way of trying to avoid feeling like you're making up stuff about people whose lives you don't understand is to use those real people."
Trishna will be released early next yearReuse content