Acclaimed theater director Benedict Andrews makes his feature film debut with “Blackbird,” which stars Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn in a story of an illicit relationship and its devastating consequences, which is adapted from Scottish playwright David Harrower’s Olivier Award-winning play. WestEnd Films will be showing the film’s first promo to buyers at the Toronto festival this week, and has given Variety the exclusive first image from the film.
As a theater director, Andrews has often been drawn to characters on the extremes of life. “That attracts me very much in the theater where someone — whether that be King Lear or Blanche DuBois — becomes a stranger to themselves,” he says. The same can be said of the characters in “Blackbird.”
It depicts the confrontation between Una and Ray, who had a sexual relationship when she was underage and he was in his 40s, and she tracks him down 15 years later. Andrews directed the play in Berlin in 2005. “It really got under my skin then. I was really attracted to David’s razor-sharp writing and how he strips his characters bare and basically over the course of this encounter makes them fight for everything they hold dear,” he said.
Whereas the play is a “verbal punching match,” the film opens up the action to become something else. “I think that’s to do with how cinema can become an inquiry into time and memory,” Andrews said.
He added: “Her journey to find Ray is a journey into memory, and this opens up a very special space that belongs to the cinema, and a kind of evocation of memory and loss and desire that can be talked about in a way that only the cinema can.”
The focus is on Una’s attempt to make sense of her past. “Something happened between them that marks them off from the rest of the world and fixes them in time, especially Una,” he said. “What happened to her has marked her and the film in a way shows her attempt to retrieve her past.”
It is a story of abuse and “damaged love,” Andrews said, and Una’s attempt to move forward from that. “The audience has to ask questions about repair and redemption inside Una, and that’s the force of the story,” he says.
A lot depends on the performances of Mara and Mendelsohn. “The story can only really be told when it has very brave actors, actors who are putting themselves on the line,” Andrews said.