Lexi Alexander, the former world karate champion turned filmmaker, now knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a good kicking.
The German-born director, who lives in Los Angeles, got taken to the woodshed last week by the British critics. They took rough exception to her debut movie “Green Street” (titled “Green Street Hooligans” in the U.S.), in which Harvard dropout Elijah Wood falls in with a gang of London soccer thugs. Alexander was accused, in the words of one critic, not of glamorizing football violence, but worse, of sentimentalizing it. Just as these hostile reviews were published, Alexander abruptly left what was supposed to be her next project, “Life ‘n’ Lyrics,” only days before it was due to start shooting Sept. 11.
The pic, a drama about Brit rappers starring Ashley Walters, is now on hiatus while producers Esther Douglas and Fiona Neilson and their financiers (principally BBC Films and the U.K. Film Council, with a U.K. presale to Universal) seek a new director.
All concerned are keen to assert that the split was mutual and amicable, but when a director walks days before cameras are due to roll, the truth is a whole lot more complicated.
Insiders say that Alexander — a formidable young woman described (admiringly) by one exec as “a headbanger” — decided that she wasn’t able to make the $6 million movie with the time and money available. A series of unresolved issues — over the casting of the female lead, over the amount of rehearsal time, over a location switch from London’s Chinatown to the nearby Berwick Street market, which Alexander opposed — led everyone to conclude that she, or the project, simply wasn’t ready.
Whether the critical assault on “Green Street” dented her self-assurance, or made her think twice about shooting another British movie, only she knows. Alexander has now headed back to L.A. to work on the Disney project “Labor Day.”
Meanwhile, “Green Street” survived the bad press to gross an acceptable $800,000 over its first weekend, putting Universal, which owns the U.K. rights, on track for a tidy profit after a likely strong run on DVD.
Emma takes no “Pride”
As Joe Wright‘s sparkling debut “Pride and Prejudice” rolls out in Blighty this weekend, there should be a long queue of people lining up to take their share of well-deserved credit.
Kudos is due to Working Title toppers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner for taking a risk not only on a first-time director, but also on Keira Knightley‘s hitherto unproven ability actually to act, and on Matthew Macfadyen‘s potential as a leading man. And it’s good to see producer Paul Webster making such a triumphant comeback after the final dark days at FilmFour. As awards season comes around, the supporting ensemble (particularly Donald Sutherland, Rosamund Pike and Tom Hollander) can expect to catch the eye of voters. So too those responsible for the production design, the costumes, the hair and make-up, the music and the sound design, all of which are impeccable.
But there one key contributor who has actively sought to avoid the spotlight — Emma Thompson. Novelist Deborah Moggach is the only credited screenwriter, but “Billy Elliot” scribe Lee Hall moved her draft forward and then Thompson, who won an Oscar for her Jane Austen adaptation “Sense and Sensibility,” did a dialogue polish that reportedly lifted the script to a new dimension.
Thompson, who wrote and starred in Working Title’s other fall movie, the charming family fantasy “Nanny McPhee,” insisted that her contribution to “Pride and Prejudice” must remain anonymous. Hall, however, went to arbitration. But because Thompson refused any credit, the arbitrators offered him only an “additional material” tag, which he declined.
In the end, Thompson gets “special thanks.” Hall isn’t mentioned at all, which WT insiders say was a blunder, not a deliberate slight. And even now, WT execs are so sensitive to Thompson’s wishes for a low profile that they won’t publicly admit what they are actually thanking her for.