Owen Sheers is a novelist, poet, journalist and now a screenwriter. In 2008 he published Resistance, a story set in the place where he grew up, the Black Mountains of Abergavenny. Recently, with the help of director Amit Gupta, Owen turned Resistance into a film. This was the reason for his visit to Cardiff Library last week.
Resistance was orginally inspired by the auxiliary movement. Secretly formed during World War Two, this movement was Britain’s last defence. In the event of a German invasion civilian volunteers would hide underground and carry out acts of sabotage. This nightmare comes true in Resistance as German troops invade Britain. In the Welsh valley of Olchon Sarah Lewis, the protagonist, wakes up to find the men from the village are gone, including her husband.
The official trailer for the film
“I was always fascinated by the idea of these women waking up and going through a trajectory,” said Owen. “Perhaps they were initially proud of their husbands for being in this last ditch attempt, but then thought ‘oh you actually left us at the time of the invasion’. I’m fascinated by that sense of unknowing and ambiguity. Had the husbands only meant to go away for one night, or are they away because they are still fighting?”
During the men’s absence a German troop led by Albrecht Wolfram stations itself in the village. Winter falls and the village becomes shut off from the rest of the world. With nobody else to help them through the winter some women in the village become close to the Germans. But when the Spring comes this uneasy alliance causes problems.
In the book and the film we never see the men return, instead the topic of resistance is explored from a different, almost quieter, persepctive. “I was genuinely in the same position as the women, I don’t know what the men were doing either,” said Owen. “I did want to write an anti-war novel, but not by having my characters experience battle. I wanted to allow them to walk down the paths that this war had led them in the last five years and in doing so that would reflect on the war, without being in the heart of it.”
In detail: Owen talks about the film-making process
Working in the film world was a new experience for Owen. On the one hand the film’s small budget allowed Owen and the rest of the staff creative freedom. Without a big film company pressuring them they were able to make the film the way they wanted. But they also had less time to shoot. The film had to be made in 5 weeks, meaning that the crew were working a 6 day week. The screenplay for the film went through at least 8 drafts before it was ready.
“As a writer what’s interesting is setting yourself challenges,” he said. “When I tried to condense the story of Resistance onto 90 pages of script I found myself frequently engaging with the poet much more than the novelist. Poetry and cinema are much much closer than prose and film. It’s something about the condensed nature of the two forms, they’re both primarily visual and they’re both metaphoric.”
The decision to adapt Resistance began when Owen met Amit in New York. Now their film will be showing in just over 2 weeks, on November 25. “Before he went home I gave him the novel and said give me your honest opinion as a film maker,” said Owen. Amit read the novel on the plane and called him straight away to say yes. Now Owen has plans to work on another original screenplay with the producer Vaughan Sivell, as well as helping to adapt Welsh author Tiffany Murray’s novel, Diamond Star Halo, into a film.
In detail: Owen talks about the release of Resistance in cinemas