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In Our Name – Brian Welsh interview

In Our Name

Interview by Rob Carnevale

WRITER-director Brian Welsh talks about why he wanted to tackle the issue of post traumatic stress disorder, as seen through the eyes of a British female soldier, in his new film, In Our Name, and why the casting of Joanne Froggatt was an essential part of the film’s success.

He also talks about working with the charity Combat Stress, the responses he’s had to the film, and the lessons he’s learned from getting it made as a director.

Q. What made you decide you wanted to tackle a film on the subject of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and have women soldiers as the focal point for a change?
Brian Welsh: There were a number of things really. I’d read a lot of stories from the States and had heard of some quite severe cases of PTSD. There was also a bit of personal stuff. But I was also interested in the idea of women in the military suffering from the emotional scars that have more traditionally been the preserve of men in film.

Q. Through your research for the film, did you find that this was an issue screaming out to be heard?
Brian Welsh: Absolutely. We worked very closely with the charity Combat Stress, who put me in touch with some nurses who were dealing with PTSD, and they also allowed Joanne [Froggatt] to go up and spend some time at their centre, which proved invaluable to her. I didn’t approach the MoD as such, because I was keen not to get any kind of party political line on things. All the research I did came from speaking directly to soldiers or from speaking to the Combat Stress charity.

Q. Did you find that there’s not enough support for soldiers suffering from PTSD? But also that it sometimes takes them a long time to admit to the need for counselling… sometimes up to 14 years?
Brian Welsh: Well, obviously in the case of Combat Stress they’re a very under-resourced charity, which is a shame because they expect the numbers of people suffering from PTSD to keep going up. Already, the volume of admissions has gone up dramatically in the past few years. But something that’s also interesting to me, and related to your latter point, is that the onset of PTSD symptoms appear to be much more immediate in current conflicts.

Previously, the average for soldiers to come out and recognise them was 14 years, but now this is much sooner and I was interested in why that might be. And I think you can put a lot of it down to the intensity of the operations they are currently completing as well as the intensity of the constant state of panic and fear they live in, fighting insurgents and coping with IADs. Quite often, these men and women find themselves living in a perpetual state of fear for six months.

Q. In Our Name also raises the harrowing issue of how children also become victims in war, and are sometimes used as weapons themselves – as seen through the eyes of Suzy while on tour?
Brian Welsh: Yeah, it’s another reason I wanted to do this story… but also children are often a trigger for the symptoms of PTSD [as seen in the classroom scene in which Suzy breaks down]. I wanted to explore what it might be like for a woman soldier to come home and be a mother after what she had seen and experienced [even as part of a hearts and minds mission].

Joanne Froggatt in In Our Name

Q. Joanne Froggatt gives an incredibly powerful and moving performance… what appealed to you about her as an actress?
Brian Welsh: I was actually quite nervous about whether we’d find the right person for this role when casting began and I actually asked to see her very early on but got a knock-back from her initially [laughs]. So, I subsequently saw a lot of actresses but still felt quite nervous about making the final decisions. But I love her work and so decided I would like to try again and, luckily, she had then had chance to read the script and had decided that she’d like to have a meeting. So, it was kind of meant to be. When she came through the door, I had this sense that, “s**t this is it”. So, finding the right actress to play Suzy was very important. But the same applied to Mel Raido too…

Q. He’s typically intense in this…
Brian Welsh: [Laughs] Yeah and when you meet him he’s actually quite shy and unassuming, but as soon as that switch flicks, he turns it on! But that was something I was quite amazed by in the auditions. He has this raw, menacing, sexuality as well… which was another thing that struck me about him. And it was important that he didn’t overshadow the character of Suzy. When speaking to Joanne about her performance, I told her that she really needed to put this guy in this place. I think there is a real chemistry between them and you can see the strength of her character shine through with during her scenes with him.

Q. Casting Chloe Jayne-Wilkinson also had a fortuitous element I gather, given that her parents were former soldiers?
Brian Welsh: Weirdly, we’d seen a lot of kids who had been to stage school and hadn’t been able to find the right one. But she was the last person we saw, and we liked her, had her again for a call back and then offered her the part, after which her parents – who chaperoned her on the set – said to us: “Do you realise that we were both soldiers?” They had met each other while serving in the Armed Forces. It came as a complete shock to us but it meant that Joanne and Mel were able to use them as a kind of resource as well.

Q. A lot of directors talk about the element of luck and timing in getting a film made. In the case of In Our Name, this seems particularly true?
Brian Welsh: Completely, when you’re making a film for the sort of money we made it for, you do kind of pray for luck at certain points, and things happen all the time during the process of development. There were a lot of times where I thought ‘this is meant to be’.

Q. And the recognition you got from the British Independent Film Awards – where Joanne won best newcomer – and you were also nominated in a couple of categories must have been tremendously gratifying?
Brian Welsh: I was so pleased for Joanne especially, because she deserved it so much. Previously, she’s been a bit typecast and confined to ITV and TV drama stuff, which she’s always outstanding in and which made me aware of her. But she’s got a great cinematic presence and I think that’s now been recognised. I hope this helps to mark a big change for her in her career.

Joanne Froggatt in In Our Name

Q. In Our Name also picked up nominations in a couple of categories, which must also help raise awareness of the film?
Brian Welsh: I got nominated for an award at the London Film Festival [Best British Newcomer] and the film was also nominated for achievement in production at the BIFAs, so it’s been nice to get that kind of recognition through the whole journey of getting it to the screen, because you always wonder whether people are going to respond to it.

Q. How difficult is it to get a film like In Our Name made in the current climate?
Brian Welsh: It’s very difficult. We had a low budget, which meant that we were able to do things and take risks that bigger budget films perhaps can’t. But I hope that with the regime change and the way funding is set up in this country that people will still take risks. It’s nice to see The Arbor and our film do well at ceremonies such as the British Independent Film Awards… films which are slightly more challenging in their subject matter than perhaps the more generic ‘putting bums on seats’ variety. I hope that continues to be the case.

Q. Have you noticed that the recognition In Our Name has been getting is making things easier for you when it comes to your next project? Are you working on something?
Brian Welsh: Yes, I’m working on something. I’ve been away writing in Scotland since the London Film Festival, but we now have a few meetings set up and I hope we can get the development money.

Q. What’s the biggest lesson you learned as a director from the experience of making In Our Name?
Brian Welsh: Biggest lesson… phew…. I think that if you’re making a low budget film, shoot it outside in the middle of summer [laughs]. We shot the film last year and wrapped in the second week of December in Newcastle! We had about three minutes of light a day [laughs]. So yes, if you have to make a film that requires outdoor shooting, aim for the summer!

Q. Finally, what’s been the most pleasing response you’ve had to the film so far?
Brian Welsh: It’s been great to be endorsed by Combat Stress and also… we got involved with Tickets for Troops, which meant that we were able to invite soldiers along to a screening and I’ve had some quite moving responses back from them. They are quite grateful we brought this story to the screen. I also spoke to one female member of the Forces who said this was the first film that, as a woman, she could identify with [on the subject of PTSD]. So, it’s great to be getting feedback like that.

In Our Name is released in cinemas and Curzon on Demand (CoD) on Friday, December 10. Find out more

Read our review of In Our Name

Read our interview with Joanne Froggatt