Fake blood, real mud as film relives the Somme

Liz Hunt meets the screenwriter who brought the Great War to Glasgow

Armistice Day 1996 - Monday 11 November - was the day the Somme came to Glasgow. Shooting of the First World War epic Regeneration was at its peak on battlefields reclaimed from scrubland just outside the city.

In driving sleet and sub-zero temperatures, actors and scores of extras negotiated ground that was knee-deep in mud, criss-crossed with barbed- wire-trimmed trenches, and hazy with smoke from guns and explosives. Artificial bodies and limbs lay partly buried in the mire, and the pace was frenetic, says director Gillies MacKinnon.

A scene in which 80 men were cut down by machine-gun fire in a matter of seconds had not long been completed when, at 11am sharp, everything and everyone stopped. The two-minute silence that followed was "the most moving, the most eerie experience I've ever known," recalls one crew member.

It had been scriptwriter Allan Scott's idea to mark the day thus. For one of the UK's most successful and prolific film writers and producers, a Hollywood player of the first order and a man dubbed the "Richelieu of Wardour Street" by observers of his high-level machinations on behalf of the film industry, the scenes being recreated in Glasgow were too powerful to ignore.

"There we were, surrounded by all the iconography of the First World War," Mr Scott, 54, said last week. "It had rained for weeks, and the mud was like nothing you have ever seen. I thought there was no way we could not mark it." The cast and crew agreed. "We caught a glimpse of the reality of that war in a way that few people have ever had," Gillies MacKinnon said.

Regeneration, adapted from the first of the Pat Barker trilogy which culminated in the Booker Prize for The Ghost Road, is the latest venture in the celluloid rediscovery of the events of 1914-1918. Lord Attenborough's In Love and War - for which Scott wrote the script - opened last week, a film of Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong is also proposed, and Scott is working with Sir David Puttnam on a A Very Long Engagement, another Great War project.

Scott believes the current interest in the First World War is because "we're the last generation able to touch it through our grandparents". Regeneration was a book he believed in from the moment he read it, shortly after it was published in 1991. He immediately acquired the rights and wrote a screenplay "on spec" - an unusual act for a writer who has been in constant demand since his script for Nicolas Roeg's classic Don't Look Now. He took it to the BBC, and he knew who he wanted to direct it; the young Scottish director MacKinnon, who has since won critical acclaim and numerous awards for his film Small Faces.

But time passed and the rights went to MGM who were keen to develop a film about Siegfried Sassoon, the aristocratic poet, war hero, and anti- war protester. It is the intriguing cerebral relationship between Sassoon, played by James Wilby, and the army psychologist, Dr W H Rivers, at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh in 1917, which provides the fact blended seamlessly with the fiction in the book.

But Regeneration is about more than Sassoon. It is, according to Scott, about how Rivers, "managed to make sane men mad enough to go back to war and how he lives with that. Or rather he doesn't. He becomes shell-shocked through treating their shell-shock".

And it is also about Billy Prior, the clever, working-class soldier promoted to officer class and rendered mute by his experiences, who is Rivers' most hostile patient. In him, Pat Barker has created one of the most complex and chilling characters in modern fiction. Jonny Lee Miller, "Sick Boy" in last year's mega-hit, Trainspotting, brings him to life in the film.

Scott, 54, a charming and occasionally indiscreet interviewee, feared the loss of all this potential to Hollywood. "Occasionally Gillies and I would meet up and cry into our beer but he was always optimistic that we'd do it," he said. "About 18 months ago I heard the rights were available again, I had the script and so I said to Gillies 'I'm ready if you are.'"

The film, now in post-production and due to premier at Cannes in May, stars Jonathan Pryce as Rivers, famous as a neurologist and social anthropologist in academic circles before the War. He is the pivotal figure around whom Sassoon and Prior move. Robert Graves, Sassoon's great friend and the man who persuades him to seek help for his pacifist leanings, makes a fleeting appearance along with Wilfred Owen. Owen was at Craiglockhart in late 1917 being treated for neurasthenia or "shell-shock" but was not a Rivers patient.

It was Owen's encounters with Sassoon - he hero-worships and is secretly in love with him according to the book - which resulted in the body of work which marks out Owen as the war poet for most people.

"What is fascinating," says Scott, "is that Owen hadn't written a war poem until he met Sassoon. He tells him that he thinks that poetry is 'something to take refuge in' from all the ugliness. Sassoon tells him to face facts. It was from October 1917 until he died [in November1918] that he wrote the war poems."

The film will introduce a new generation to the poetry of the Great War. But its inclusion presented Scott with problems. He had wanted to use "Dulce et decorum est" at the end but it was pointed out that most of his audience would not know what it meant. (In Owen's words, "The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/Pro patria mori" - It is sweet and honourable to die for your country). Since Regeneration is intended as big box-office rather than art house, it must appeal to Mr and Mrs Iowa et al, so Scott had to find a way of explaining Dulce et... early in the film so that the audience would not realise it had been "set up". How was it done? "Wait and see."

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on