Auteur of the Week: Stephen Daldry

Stephen Daldry is pretty much the John Cazale of directors. (Google John Cazale if you don’t get what I mean by that). He’s directed three films and has been nominated for Best Director by the Academy for all three films. Only two of them were nominated for Best Picture, but it’ quite possibly Billy Elliot was thisclose to getting one of those five slots in 2000. Odds are if the Weinsteins hadn’t had a film out that year (Chocolat) that they aggressively campaigned for, it would have. What I love the most about Daldry as a director, and I think this comes from his background as a theater director, is the strong performances he gets out of his actors. I dare you to find one bad, or even “just okay” performance in one of his films. You’ll be hard-pressed to find one. He has director five Academy Award nominated and two Academy Award winning performances. That’s pretty good for a guy who’s only done three feature films so far.

Stephen Daldry was born in Dorset, England. He was educated at the University of Sheffield, where he was Chairman of the Sheffield University Theatre Company. He then took an apprenticeship at the city’s Crucible Theatre from 1985-1988. He has also trained at East 15 Acting School, London. While at the Sheffield Crucible Theater he worked as the Artistic Director Clare Venables where he directed many productions. He has also worked at the Manchester Library Theatre, Liverpool Playhouse, Stratford East, Oxford Stage, Brighton and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He was also Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre, London from 1989–1992, Artistic Director of the Royal Court Theatre from 1992-1998. He is currently on the Board of the Young and Old Vic Theatres and remains an Associate Director of the Royal Court Theatre. Most recently he brought Billy Elliot the Musical to Broadway, where it was nominated for 15 Tony awards, winning ten including Best Musical and Best Director of a Musical – Daldry.

Daldry’s first feature film was 2000’s Billy Elliot. The film was made on a $5 mil budget and made over $100 mil at the box office. It opened to near universal acclaim and currently holds a 85% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was nominated for seven British Independent Film Awards; winning six, thirteen BAFTAs; winning three, the Golden Globe Award for Best Drama and Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Julie Waters, three Screen Actors Guild awards and three Academy Award – Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director.

I think I need to rewatch this film some time soon; I haven’t seen it since it was first available to rent. I do remember, however, that I really loved it. It has one of the best film soundtracks in recent years. I also remember that it felt really original. The characters felt fresh and unique, the visuals were stunning and the performances amazing. It’s just one of those stories pretty much everyone can relate to – having a dream and stopping at nothing to achieve it. It’s a feel-good movie with plenty of gravity to keep it from being to schmaltzy. Like I said earlier, I definitely think it was #6 that year with Academy voters.

Daldry’s next film was a powerhouse of female performances, with outstanding performances from three of today’s greatest leading ladies, all at the top of their games. The film was made with a $25 mil budget and grossed over $100 mil worldwide. It currently holds an 81% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film received countless awards and nominations, including four Screen Actors Guild nominations, seven Golden Globe nominations, ten BAFTA nominations (winning two) and nine Academy Award nominations: Best Costume Design, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor – Ed Harris, Best Supporting Actress – Julianne Moore, Best Actress – Nicole Kidman (won), Best Director and Best Picture.

I haven’t read the Michael Cunningham novel on which the film is based, nor have a read the Virginia Woolf novel to which the Cunningham novel alludes, so all I can really talk about is how it works as a film. I loved how seamlessly the three story lines, 1923 with Kidman’s Woolf, 1951 with Moore’s Laura and 2001 with Streep’s Clarissa. The production design is lush, while at the same time understated. The hair and make-up, and I don’t just mean Kidman’s prosthetic nose, is so wonderful – the red lips on Moore, etc. I love when a film gets all the little details correct, it makes it less like fiction that way. And though the film is mostly about these three women, and the other women in their lives – Miranda Richardson, Toni Collette, Allison Janney  and Claire Danes – there are some really wonderful male performances in the film. This is definitely some of Ed Harris’ best work, he received his fourth Oscar nomination for his role in the film. Jeff Daniels, John C. Reilly and Stephen Dillane are all quite moving as well. Lastly, the score by Phillip Glass is like the cherry on top of an already delicious cake. Glass is one of my favorite modern composers and his work for this film really encapsulates the mood and tone of it as a whole.

Daldry reteamed with screenwriter David Hare, who wrote the screenplay for The Hours, for his third feature film, 2008’s The Reader. The film was made on a $32 mil budget and grossed more than $100 mil worldwide. Perhaps his least well received film, it got mixed reviews and currently holds a 61% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Regardless, it received multiple nominations, although there was some confusion as to whether Kate Winslet’s performance was a supporting or a lead, and therefore she won awards in both categories. Among the films many awards and nominations it was nominated for four Golden Globes; winning one – Best Supporting Actress Kate Winslet (she also won Best Lead Actress for her role in Revolutionary Road. Although she had been nominated five times prior, these two wins would mark here first and second Golden Globe wins), five BAFTAs; Winlest won for Best Actress, one SAG award; Winslet won for Best Supporting Actress and five Academy Awards; Kate Winslet won Best Actress [this was her sixth nomination; Winslet was the youngest actress ever to receive two nominations (at 22), the youngest to receive four nominations (at 29) and now the youngest to receive six (at 33)].

I saw this movie in theaters in San Francisco and I’m pretty sure I was the youngest person in the audience. I was completely in awe of the film when it was over. I thought it was just so beautifully shot, written, acted, etc. I thought about it for days, weeks even after I watched it. At the time I put it as my #1 film of 2008. Though, if I were to make that list now I think I’d put Changeling as my #1, even though I’d seen it prior to seeing The Reader. I think it was #5 on my list at the end of that year. This is why I hate making lists, they always change as time changes and as you re-watch films, but I digress. I thought Winslet’s performance was astonishing, though I would have put it in as a supporting role for sure. Really, I wish she had won her Oscar for her performance in Revolutionary Road, but again I digress. I think this film is a beautiful look at how our relationships with other people can affect us in ways we never knew until it’s happened. I wish Ralph Fiennes’ performance had gotten more attention, he is at his best in this film. Perhaps it’s a hard film to watch because Winslet’s character is a hard character to relate to and her relationship with David Kross’ young Michael is an uneasy one, but I also kind of think that’s the point. At any rate, this film is definitely worth a watch if you’ve never seen it, even if it does make you a bit uncomfortable while watching, I guarantee it will stick with you long after the last frame fades.

Daldry’s next project is supposed to be a film adaptation of the novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer, who Everything is Illuminated (which was turned into a film written and directed by Liev Schreiber and starring Elijah Wood). The script for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is to be written by Eric Roth (screenwriter of Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), is rumored to star Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks and is set to be released some time in 2012.

If you’re interested in buying any of Stephen Daldry’s films, you can do so here.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on October 12, 2010, in Auteur of the Week and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I like Daldry a lot, but the Academy love THE READER got actually gets my goat up.

    2008 gave us three films that were much better than THE READER in WALL-E, THE WRESTLER, and THE DARK KNIGHT – however none of them made the five-picture shortlist. THE READER is good, but nowhere near as memorable as those three.

    What bothers me even more, is the fact that THE READER made it to the dance thanks to a massive fyc campaign by The Weinstein reminiscent of their old Miramax days. It pissed off producer Scott Rudin who found his work on REVOLUTIONARY ROAD sidelined, and his work on THE ROAD delayed by a whole year.

    Daldry’s a great director, but what The Weinsteins did with THE READER leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’m a big fan of “Loud/Close”, so hopefully he can redeem my faith in him by working his magic with that.

    Great post!

    • I think also part of the love for The Reader was a posthumous nod at producers Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack.

      but really, I remember when The Reader was announced and not The Dark Knight (cuz I got up at 5AM to see it live) and I swear I could hear a worldwide gasp.

      As much as I love The Reader, in retrospect, I would have liked the 5th spot to go to The Wrestler (or really, Changeling)

  1. Pingback: Oscar Vault Monday – Moulin Rouge!, 2001 (dir. Baz Luhrmann) « the diary of a film history fanatic

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