It feels like a long time since we had an accomplished black comedy to have come out of Britain. Which makes the forthcoming release of Tom Edmunds’ Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back) even more enticing, telling a tale of a young man so inept at committing suicide, he hires an assassin to do it for him.
Starring British screen legend Tom Wilkinson as the ageing killer, as well as Aneurin Barnard and Freya Mavor, the impressive ensemble pointed towards a filmmaker with lofty ambitions, and we had the pleasure of heading down to the set, on a location shoot for a restaurant sequence, where we spent time with cast and crew of this funny piece of cinema.
When managing to get a brief moment with Edmunds, who was naturally rather busy that day, he spoke of how essential it was to getting this film off the ground, to have lured in someone of Wilkinson’s stature.
“We needed it,” he said. “I’ve spoken to Tom about it, who shrugs it off in his manner, but there’s a real risk involved for him. He’s a very well-respected, really established, fantastic, two-time Oscar nominee and he’s putting his faith in a first-time writer/director and it’s a big leap, and I’m incredibly grateful he is that person who would do that, it’s a huge thing and a huge credit to him. He didn’t know what we would be like, he had no idea. I hope over the course of the shoot we’ve impressed him with our professionalism, and I think we now have a really good working relationship, and he is terrific in the film, exactly what we needed, he really is. That was the big quantum leap forward, the big push.”
Working with such experienced performers isn’t just good for exposure, but also it allows those like Edmunds, in what is his feature film debut, a chance to take on a few pointers.
“When Tom said he would do it he had a couple of notes about certain elements of the film and I was unsure about it, but actually he’s been proven completely correct. I made the changes and listened to what his reservations were. He wasn’t very prescriptive, he was just flagging some stuff, but that pointed me in a direction that I’m really pleased that we’ve gone in actually, he’s really smart with a script,” he said.
We sat down with Wilkinson too, who has a somewhat notorious reputation within the industry of being rather hard to interview. Which, unsurprisingly, we found to be the case. He did, however, muster up a semblance of enthusiasm to explain what attracted him to the project.
“I liked the script,” he mumbled. “I’m very reluctant to do work these days, but the script was really smart, and very funny. But comedy is hard, really, really hard. The work that Tom has got to go through now, once the filming is done, getting the tone right, getting the rhythms right, it’s the tone that is really crucial.”
Naturally we were rather pleased to then spend time with Barnard, who actually seemed really pleased to be there, and he too discussed how essential it is to get this film right. In a society where there seems to be an inclination to just get offended by anything, when a film is dealing with the theme of suicide and yet dressing it up within a comedy and adhering to the tropes of the genre, it certainly presents an element of risk.
“This is a dark comedy but we do venture into some dark areas but with a respectful wit, hopefully. It’s very stylised and it’s not meant to offend anyone, it’s a film not a documentary, it’s a bit of fun,” the Welshman said.
“It’s a very tricky puzzle to put together but that’s what is brilliant about it, we’ve been so good in Britain at this sort of comedy and we’ve stepped back from it in the past few years. So now to be involved in something that is risky is good. Audiences aren’t stupid, they know this is a film not a documentary, they know we’re not trying to offend anyone, we’re trying to take a subject that is delicate but do it in a respectful, mature way where people can sit back and laugh. This film does have a through-line of hope through it, but it is a dark comedy.”
“There probably will be people, because people always have something to say, which is fine, that’s cinema, it will always happen, people need to review and like and dislike, because it’s tastes. If we all liked the same thing, bloody hell this planet would be so boring, wouldn’t it? With something like this it would be a shame if people did get offended for the wrong reasons. We really need to push this film as a niche film, to call it a dark comedy is too general in a way. The content is there to challenge you and make you laugh and feel awkward and happy and sad, it’s supposed to take you on a journey.”
For Barnard it presented an interesting challenge too, for while the film that played around him did have a light, playful tone, he has embodying a character who had suicidal tendencies.
“I have to actually put myself in a place of wanting to kill myself, I have to get into that headspace and that’s been a challenge,” he admitted. “I have to take myself to very dark places within my own self. I have to go through myself to channel those emotions and feelings which is tricky. There will be times when I say something and the crew are laughing but I’m still quite serious. A lot of this film is me sitting there looking miserable while everybody else is laughing around me.”
We then spoke to Mavor, who forms a wonderful chemistry on screen with Barnard, even if the romantic sub-plot does play second fiddle within this narrative. She explains that their connection came rather easily.
“I always enjoy rehearsing and spending as much time as possible with a person if you have to be intimate with them in any context, it’s always beneficial,” she said. “I’m lucky in this sense as I’ve worked with Aneurin before, and we got on really well back then so the connection was already established, it was just a case of getting back in contact.”
She also discussed what it was like collaborating with Wilkinson. “It’s amazing to work with people when you’ve seen so much of their work and watched them growing up, and had them inspire you. It’s amazing admiring someone and then being able to work with them.”
Mavor too touched upon the film’s tone, and the need to remain respectful to the themes at play, which she believes has been accomplished, discussing how important it is, through film, we find a lighter side to the darker aspects of life.
“It reminded me of a lot of films and storylines that I’ve loved, I’m a big fan of dark comedy and I’ve loved things like Green Wing or Limmy’s show, or Fleabag, where they talk about dark and twisted things that we can laugh at and find light in,” she continued. “This obviously touches on a tough subject matter but it’s done very respectfully, so it’s not offensive to people who are suffering from depression or experiencing suicidal feelings, it’s very respectful towards that theme, but dealt with in a very intelligent way I think.”
But the task of finding that tone was down to Edmunds, but we can confirm, having now seen the film, that it’s one he’s more than succeeded in – but that doesn’t mean back on the set he didn’t have certain anxieties about that side of the production.
“Tone is a big, big thing and tone is a slippery bastard for filmmakers,” he laughed. “It was about making this story specific to William and not to be general, but also not to attribute his situation to a specific thing, like being an alcoholic, or he’s got no money, I didn’t want to attribute it to one thing because then I think you can get into trouble. Ultimately the story I have always intended to tell was an optimistic one, about people finding something in their lives.”
Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back) is out in cinemas on November 16th