Following his Academy Award nomination for Best Director on The King’s Speech, Trevor Hogg profiles the career of British filmmaker Tom Hooper in the first of a two-part feature…
“I fell in love with directing at the age of twelve, at prep school in Highgate,” stated British filmmaker Tom Hooper who as a student came across the book How to Make Film and Television. His career ambitions were fueled further when an uncle gave the London native a cast-off clockwork 16mm Bolex camera which allowed him to make his debut effort, a short film called Runaway Dog. Later, during the year between Westminster and Oxford University, Hooper produced a fifteen minute project about a painting that terrorizes its creator (Philip Rosch). Costing $16,000, Painted Faces (1992) was broadcast on Channel 4’s First Frame and received extra financial support from commercial director Paul Weiland which allowed it to be screened at the 35th London Film Festival.
Studying English, the undergrad joined the Oxford University Dramatic Society. “I directed my first play at Oxford, A View from the Bridge with Kate Beckinsale (Underworld), who was genius,” recalled Tom Hooper who also collaborated with actress Emily Mortimer (Dear Frankie) in an Oxford Playhouse production of The Trial. The aspiring filmmaker tried to emulate British director Ridley Scott who honed his craft producing television commercials before breaking into the movie industry. Hooper directed a series of ads including one for Sega featuring Right Said Fred; however, he found himself being drawn to television productions. Introduced to BBC producer Matthew Robinson by his father, an English media businessman, Tom Hooper helmed a series of TV episodes for Quayside, Byker Grove, and EastEnders. “The thing that fascinates me is that the way I came to film and television is extinct,” observed Tom Hooper whose small screen style was influenced by ER, NYPD Blue and Homicide: Life on the Street. “Then there were gatekeepers; it was prohibitively expensive to make a film. To be a director you had to be an entrepreneur to raise money. Now with my $300 digital camera, I can film and use editing software on the computer. There’s been a complete democratization. The barrier to entry is so much lower, it is interesting to see how that affects directing.”
With his growing reputation, the young director was given the responsibility of producing two episodes of Granada Television’s Cold Feet. “Christine [Langan] was one of the first people to give me a step up to bigger budget television,” remarked Tom Hooper of the producer of the comedy-drama series. Next up for Hooper was a BBC and PBS Masterpiece Theatre miniseries Love in a Cold Climate (2001) which was based on the book of the same title by Nancy Mitford, as well as another novel of hers, The Pursuit of Love. The story revolves around the Post-WWI adventures of two young women (Elisabeth Dermot Walsh and Megan Dodds) who are on a quest to find love. Along with Dermot-Walsh (Falling for a Dancer) and Dodds (EverAfter) other cast members in the romantic drama include Rosamund Pike (An Education) and Javier Alcina (Simon: An English Legionnaire). A year later Tom Hooper made a second BBC and Masterpiece Theatre production, a small screen series adaptation of Daniel Deronda (2002) by author George Eliot. Hugh Dancy (Adam) plays the title character who tries to get away from his family while living in eighteenth century London. “The thing I like about this tale is that it’s not at all your conventional costume drama,” observed Hooper who worked with a cast that features Romola Garai (Amazing Grace), Hugh Bonneville (Mansfield Park), and Jodhi May (The Last of the Mohicans). “It’s far more complex and looks at aspects of love, loss and religion.” Shot over a course of eleven weeks in England, Scotland and Malta, the three-part tale won Best Drama Series or Serial at the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards and the Banff Rockie Award for Best Miniseries.
An opportunity presented itself allowing Tom Hooper to collaborate with an Oscar-winning actress on a TV movie called Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness (2003). “I was very anti the idea, it was number 6,” confessed the director. “I felt it was tired so I turned it down. Andy Harris reeled in Helen [Mirren], I rolled over. It was not a very difficult conquest. In retrospect it was a brilliant thing to do. Thank God, I did do it.” The investigation into the murder of a Bosnian refuge leads Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) to suspected Serbian war criminals. Acting alongside Mirren (Excalibur) in the Granada Television and ITV production are Oleg Menshikov (Burnt by the Sun), Ben Miles (V for Vendetta), Robert Pugh (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), Mark Strong (The Way Back), Clare Holman (Blood Diamond), Liam Cunningham (Clash of the Titans)and Velibor Topic (London Boulevard). In the New Statesman, Andrew Billen wrote, “Tom Hooper [himself to be] proved an outstanding director, imposing a bleak, over-lit hyper-realism on the search for a killer in a hospital, isolating Mirren in rows of empty chairs and playing on the eyewitness/ optical visual metaphors.” Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness was nominated for Best Drama Serial – Television at the BAFTAs and competed for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special.
Riding on the wave of critical success, Tom Hooper decided to make a cinematic adaptation of the novel Red Dust (2004) by Gillian Slovo. A young black politician (Chiwetel Ejiofor) opposes the applications of his former Apartheid torturers for amnesty from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “It’s rare to come across a script like this,” said the director of the project which stars Hilary Swank (Insomnia), Jamie Bartlett (Prey), Ian Roberts (Tsotsi), Hlomla Dandala (Lord of War), James Ngcobo (Man to Man), Glen Gabela (Beat the Drum), and Connie Mfuku (Soweto Green). “I was very cautious about the choice of my first theatrical feature. I needed to be passionate, and this material was so powerful, dealing with a big issue – that there is another way of dealing with conflict besides going to war and killing each other.” Hooper added, “When you have a long running tension within communities, one generation has to opt out of revenge in order to achieve reconciliation, to move on.” Addressing the story itself, the filmmaker stated, “Principally, it is the drama of the court hearing, and the drama between the two protagonists, Sarah and Alex, that makes the plot as interesting and complicated as possible. It has the feel of a good thriller.” Revelations that British and American soldiers were torturing Iraqi War prisoners had a ripple effect on the commercial appeal of the production. “The film became a lot more uncomfortable for the very audiences it was designed to target. I have learned sadly that the theatrical audience does not run to see films that are openly issue-bled.” However, Red Dust was not ignored critically as the Bangkok International Film Festival nominated the picture for the Golden Kinnaree Award – Best Film and so did the BAFTAs for Best Single Drama “production team” – Television. International Film Festival of India lauded the debut effort by Tom Hooper with the Special Jury Award “for the film’s efficient use of cinematic language in narrating a story of disturbing political unrest.”
“She said to me very early on, ‘I’d like you to do Elizabeth I ,’ It was all her choice,” remarked Tom Hooper who impressed Helen Mirren so much with their collaboration on Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness that she wanted to work with him again. “I thought it was such a good idea as a piece of casting, Helen was so good for it.” The two-part TV miniseries chronicling the later years of the private and public life of Queen Elizabeth I (Helen Mirren) originally aired on Channel 4 in the U.K. and was subsequently broadcast in the U.S. on HBO. Performing with Mirren are Hugh Dancy, Toby Jones (Infamous), Patrick Malahide (The Long Kiss Goodnight), Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow), and fellow Academy Award-winner Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune). In the movie industry publication Variety, Brian Lowery wrote, “Tom Hooper, who previously directed Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect 6, indulges in [Nigel] Williams’ penchant for long, theatrical monologues, which require some getting used to in the slow early going. Gradually, however, as with the best British costume drama, the narrative becomes absorbing.”
The second collaboration between Helen Mirren and Tom Hooper became an awards sensation as it won at BAFTAs for Best Original Television Music and received nominations for Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hair Design, and Best Production Design. The American Cinema Editors nominated the period tale for Best Edited Miniseries or Motion Picture for Noncommercial Television, while the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards presented it with the Critics Choice Award for Best Picture Made for Television. At the Emmy Awards Elizabeth I won Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special, Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special, Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries or Movie or a Special, Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special, Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie (Helen Mirren), Outstanding Miniseries, Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries or a Movie, and Outstanding Supporting Acting in a Miniseries or a Movie (Jeremy Irons); it also competed for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Miniseries or a Movie, Outstanding Single-Camera Sound Mixing for a Miniseries or a Movie, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie (Hugh Dancy), and Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special. The Golden Globes lauded the production with Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television, Best Performance of an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television (Jeremy Irons) and Best Performance of an Actress in a Miniseries, or a Motion Picture Made for Television (Helen Mirren). Amongst their peers, Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons were respectively given the Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries and Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries.
“[Longford] is a film about an aging, aristocratic, loony, slightly mad lawyer and his relationship with a serial killer whom no one knows in the U.S.,” stated Tom Hooper of his 2006 project which stars Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent (Iris) as the controversial Lord Longford; he campaigns for the release of a woman (Samantha Morton) who was convicted along with her boyfriend (Andy Serkis) for a number of child murders. The historical TV movie was produced by Granada Television and aired on Channel 4 as well as HBO. The filmmaker was drawn to the story as he wanted to “direct a film in which the language of forgiveness was to the fore – rather than the ideas of retaliation and revenge.” Peter Morgan (The Queen) composed the screenplay for the small screen production which features Lee Boardman (Being Sold), Tam Dean Burn (Local Hero), Lindsay Duncan (Alice in Wonderland), Kate Miles (The Payback), Sarah Crowden (Brideshead Revisited), Robert Pugh and Caroline Clegg. Seb Morton-Clark of the Financial Times wrote, “Morgan and director Tom Hooper wove a seamless narrative about obsession – and not just that of the misguided philanthropist for the incarceration of Hindley or even that that existed between the sadistic lovers themselves. More significantly, by using chunks of original television footage, they painted a stark picture of the zealotry of a vengeful nation and its press over the supposed embodiment of evil.”
Longford won BAFTA Awards for Best Actor (Jim Broadbent), Best Editing – Fiction or Entertainment, and Best Writer and received nominations for Best Actor (Andy Serkis), Best Actress (Samantha Morton), Best Director, Best Photography and Lighting – Fiction or Entertainment, Best Production Design, and Best Single Drama; the Broadcast Press Guild Awards lauded it with Best Actor (Jim Broadbent), and Best Single Drama. At the Emmy Awards, the drama contended for Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie (Jim Broadbent), Outstanding Made for Television Movie, Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie or Special, and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie (Samantha Morton). The Golden Globes lauded Longford with Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television, Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television (Jim Broadbent), and Best Performance by an Actress in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television (Samantha Morton) along with a nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television (Andy Serkis).
“I certainly feel like English TV drama isn’t necessarily taking as many risks as it perhaps once did and there’s tremendous pressure to come up with the new detective story and… hospital drama,” stated Tom Hooper. “Ironically, it’s HBO who are at the moment fulfilling this role of old-fashioned public service broadcaster.” The American specialty channel was equally enamored with Hooper entrusting him with a $100 million production spearheaded by two-time Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump).
Continue to part two.
Visit the official website of The King’s Speech, and read our review here.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.