Lone Scherfig has just gone home to Denmark after several months directing “An Education” in London, but she’s already yearning to return.
“It’s not easy to leave and not be sure if I’m going to come back,” she says. “I so want to work in England more. Not in France, or America, or Italy, which people assume because I made ‘Italian for Beginners.’ Only in England, because of the actors.”
What attracts her so strongly, she explains, is the culture of excellence, diligence and discipline that’s so deeply ingrained in British filmmaking that the Brits themselves don’t even notice it.
“In general, British films are better than ours,” she says. “Once or twice every day on set, there was a little flash of a moment when you realize this is the world championship. Because the British have such a strong film tradition, because at some time or another they have been the best in the world at everything, you feel that people expect a very high standard.”
“An Education” is a script by bestselling novelist Nick Hornby about a teenage girl’s awakening in the prim London suburb of Twickenham in 1961.
Scherfig confesses that she sometimes felt very foreign in such an English environment. “They looked at me and listened to me and treated me the way I would treat a director from Omsk or Kalingrad,” she laughs.
“I would decide every morning that I would be quiet and concentrated and focused and keep all my thoughts to myself, but 20 minutes into the shoot, I have forgotten and I talk too much,” she says. “I come from a Dogma background that’s about working much more al fresco, with the moment. They had to accept that I was less disciplined than a British director. When they hire a director like me, they probably want the personality who can create that tone in the project, not just cheap foreign labor.”
Despite her fluent English, she was nervous about missing the nuances in Hornby’s script. She relied on open communication with the cast and crew to ensure that everything “tasted right.” That occasionally led to disagreements.
“There was a fruit bowl coming in and out of shot all the time. I didn’t want an irrelevant fruit bowl that didn’t have a dramatic purpose, because onscreen a fruit bowl can be the size of a sofa. But the production designer would say, it will be a problem for my grandmother if there isn’t a fruit bowl on the dining room table: It’s not Twickenham in 1961 if there’s no fruit bowl.”