“Calm with Horses,” which made its world premiere in Toronto’s TIFF in the Discovery section, is the feature directorial debut of Nick Rowland (Amazon series “Ripper Street”), and stars Barry Keoghan (Marvel’s upcoming “The Eternals,” “Dunkirk”), Cosmo Jarvis (“Annihilation”), and Niamh Algar (BBC’s “The Virtues”). The script, which was adapted from Colin Barrett’s short story by screenwriter Joe Murtagh (UK series “Origin”), centers on ex-boxer Douglas “Arm” Armstrong (Jarvis), who has become a feared enforcer for the drug-dealing Devers family. Set In rural Ireland, Armstrong has to balance his criminal life with the demands of being a father to his autistic, five-year-old son. When his employers ask him to kill a rival, he must decide where his loyalties fully reside.
“I think it was that the characters felt so rich and the dialogue was beyond fantastic,” says Rowland, when asked about what initially drew him to Murtagh’s script. “There was a slight eccentricity to the characters which felt very real to me. And the world felt familiar to me. I guess the thing that really hooked me in was the contrast between how violent and cold this man can be while working for these criminals, yes he was filled with so much warmth, humanity and tenderness when he was with his son.”
Rowland found unique perspective in order to gather cinematic stimulation. “I’m obsessed with emotion and performance, so I often start with documentary photographers to get inspiration. In the case of ‘Calm with Horses,’ I looked at Gavin Watson’s work, and also people like Doug Dubois, Rich Gilligan, Jamie Johnson and Megan Doherty. I create an extensive mood board of images and sounds from photos, movies, newspaper clippings, journals, paintings, music or anything that builds up the tone of the world, and then it’s a case of just going out and searching for it and building it,” he says.
And Rowland isn’t wasting any time with finding a follow-up project. “I am working on a crime film set within the backdrop of rally driving and motorsport. Before I started filmmaking I competed as a rally driver, and it’s a world I know a lot about so I am excited to try and merge my two passions together. Beyond that I am really keen to make my version of a love story,” he says.
“Calm With Horses” is a co-production between DMC Film and Film4, with CAA and Altitude Film Sales handling worldwide sales.