Feature Screenplays


Note


None of the screenplays here have (so far) been produced. Nevertheless, the process of writing them has benefited me enormously both as an educator and as a dramatist developing my practice. Moving from the very language-based medium of theatre writing to the visual medium of film, I needed to develop a visual language. Film sequences are hieroglyphics in motion, conveying meaning as well as story. Film scripts are indicators of the contents of these dynamic hieroglyphs. I am privileged that, as a research-through-practice academic, no endeavour of script development is wasted. There’s a growing movement within the academy for practitioners to share the knowledge created via screenwriting, whether or not the screenplay is produced.

Old School’s Out (2016-19)



Note:

Crime films featuring gangsters are a large if not so respectable part of the British film industry’s output. This crime screenplay offered me a chance to meditate on violence, what it achieves, what are its consequences for the self and others. For material, I researched biographies and memoirs of the Krays and their associates. In terms of style, I looked at some 1980s Charles Bronson films, made with the British director J. Lee Thompson; dismissed as populist fodder, they’re a genuine and felt engagement with stresses caused by demands on men to put things right by any means necessary. I also looked at the crime thrillers of the Italian director Fernando di Leo. His criminals are desperate men on one last course towards an inevitable grave, causing as much havoc as possible. Fascinating material, with heavily Catholic threads running through them – how steeped in sin these men are! I used these sources as a way into engaging my story, pushing myself to take the protagonist as deep as possible into the dark places his undertaking leads him. It’s led me to some conversations with producers. It’s a bleak and brutal work but that’s okay in the context of what it is about, and its genre.

Story:

A violent offender, known as Old School, gets out after a long sentence. He wants to go straight, live a life of peace and service. When he finds himself involved in a fight to save a community youth centre from property developers, he discovers his old talent for extreme violence comes in useful. When the fight gives him the chance to revenge himself on the man who put him inside, he finds that violence is not only useful – it satisfies his deepest cravings. Is he saving the club, or dragging it down to hell?

Loose Cannon on a Rolling Deck / In the Blood (2009)



Note:

I developed this for a while with White Dolphin films. The director, Andy Kelleher, had the idea and I wrote a number of drafts. It’s about betrayal, on the surface between family members. But underneath, for me it’s about the way our bodies betray us in their unruly needs and lusts. I wrote various drafts of two versions: one for a microbudget feature; the other an hour-long TV play. Andy was pleased with the results but the production company never secured the finance.

Story:

Straight-laced Paul has a difficult, bitter relationship with his reckless, bisexual, drug-taking father, Dave. Paul blames Dave for the death of his Mum. Thug-for-hire Ray gets involved, carrying father issues of his own. Things hurtle towards a final reckoning.

Capital (2007)



Note:

A commission from a producer/director named Eddie King, who wanted a cross between Kidulthood and an American TV series called The OJ. He was keen to have two social groups clash. This gave me the chance to interweave a lot of different stories. I was intrigued by the idea that the neglect society shows towards one class might end up damaging those who have more privilege. King filmed a few test scenes but didn’t manage to get the film off the ground.

Story:

A hot summer Saturday. In Chelsea, siblings Eva and Hugo plan their glittering futures: she, as the bride of aristocratic Charles; he, as a photo-journalist. Eva’s best friend Mia is in love with Hugo, and today is the day when she discovers that he reciprocates her feelings. Across the river, in Battersea, half-brothers Sunny and Dean celebrate Dean’s early release from prison with a vicious revenge attack on the kid who grassed him up. That afternoon, the two sets go about their contrasting pursuits. The rich kids shop at the swankiest stores & indulge their every desire; the penniless youths prey on weekend shoppers and spend the proceeds of their robberies on drugs and weapons. That evening each group heads out for a night on the town. It’s cruising in Ferraris and exclusive clubs for the fortunate clique but the Battersea gang are not welcomed in even the grottiest Chelsea pub. Yet the street is the place where worlds can collide. When that happens, the result is tragedy.

Take Me In (2006)



Note:

I had the story of Babes in the Wood in my mind. I mixed in some of the punishment of Marsyas. Some of my anger over Iraq also seeped in. I was after something with the tone of a Haneke. This was never going to be a commercial script. Writing it taught me something about where you come into a film story. I think I came in too early in this. You live and learn. It’s probably the only script anywhere which climaxes in the flaying of a harpsichordist. Howard, the harpsichordist, was inspired by the playwright Howard Barker.

Story:

Two teenagers, Andy and Kelly, escape their haunted, abusive pasts in the provinces to find a new life in the capitol. All that seems open to them are dead-end jobs on low wages. A chance meeting with a pair of wealthy siblings sees them installed as housekeepers in a luxurious St. John's Wood mansion. Andy and Kelly believe they have it made. But there is a cuckoo in the nest. One of the rooms in the mansion is inhabited by Howard, a moody harpsichordist with no love for the siblings. Andy finds himself strangely drawn to the enigmatic Howard, leaving Kelly feeling increasingly out in the cold. The arrival of the siblings' charismatic younger brother Piers brings the situation to a head. Andy and Kelly are persuaded that Howard's presence in the house is sinister and toxic. Andy's fascination turns to revulsion and Kelly's jealousy morphs into fury. Piers provides a final solution to the problem of Howard. The kids are willing to play their part. Have Andy and Kelly finally made the right choice in agreeing to dispose of their employer’s enemy? Or have they been used in a power struggle which goes way above their heads?

Really Are / Essentially Me (1999-2000)



Note:

I was invited onto a BBC Writer’s Room development course. There were 12 of us, including Simon Stephens and Parv Bancil. We were all commissioned to write original 60-minute TV scripts. We’d get feedback from BBC script editors and producers. I’d been writing about Blake, so wanted to do something in his spirit. I carried some of the Coming Up idea of alter-egos into the development. It was a contemporary setting which erupts into visions of heaven and hell. The feedback was that the script was pretty unique! Perhaps I hadn’t quite pulled it off. One of the producers said that my antagonist, Sawney, was the greatest character she’d ever read. I bonded with Parv Bancil. We had similar tastes and liked each others’ scripts (which were both pretty out there). Years later, I heard Parv died. Funny how sometimes you meet someone briefly but they make a big impression; his death deeply saddened me.

Story:

For a couple of weeks now Jake has been waking up in the mornings with a hangover and a nagging feeling that something odd has been happening in the pub after work with his fellow employees. He's seeing reflections that scare him in the mirror. At work, he doesn’t intervene as his friend and colleague Sawney humiliate women and subordinates. Jake's personal life is off-track. He is estranged from his wife Suzanne; they can't seem to connect anymore. Sawney is in a loveless marriage with his wife, Leah. It gradually becomes clear to Jake that the negative and viperous Sawney is an actual demon; their friendship has dragged Jake down to hell. He experiences their regular pub transformed into the pit, where Satan pontificates. But another office employee, Pete, is playing for the other team. Jake might have a way out of damnation.
































James Martin Charlton
















James Martin Charlton
















































































James Martin Charlton