Before veteran screenwriter Christopher Hampton helped playwright Florian Zeller adapt his stage production “The Father” for the screen, he had actually written a translation of the play from French to English. “It was really the beginning of a very enjoyable relationship,” says Hampton. “Then a couple of years ago he said, would I like to take part with him in preparing a screenplay.” Now that film is nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Watch our exclusive video interview with Hampton above.
The film tells the story of Anthony (played by Best Actor nominee Anthony Hopkins), who suffers from dementia and whose symptoms are growing worse as his daughter (Best Supporting Actress nominee Olivia Colman) struggles to care for him. “We had a series of conversations about how we envisaged the film,” Hampton remembers. “There’s all kinds of ways you could go with it, but we decided what we really wanted to focus on was its claustrophobia and its mystery.”
That led to a different approach to the story than one might expect for a film adapted from a play. “It’s quite a tricky thing to do,” he explains. “Your instinct in order to make it cinematic is to open it out, invent new scenes in different places, make the whole thing flow faster, and that’s people’s general idea of making something cinematic. In this case it was different because in a way the claustrophobia is part of the plot … so instead of going outside we focused it more and more inwards as if the setting of the film is the inside of Anthony’s head.”
That puts the viewer in Anthony’s position, questioning reality, memory, and the passage of time: “At a certain point you just need to surrender to it and not try to join up all the corners and the strange events. You just have to realize that you’re going through an experience sort of analogous perhaps to the experience people have when they really suffer from this condition.”
In addition to their Oscar nomination, Hampton and Zeller have won a British Independent Film Award for writing “The Father” in addition to recognition from a wide variety of critics groups and nominations from the Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Critics Choice Awards. But accolades are nothing new to Hampton, who won an Oscar for adapting his own play into “Dangerous Liaisons” (1988) and earned another nomination for the adapted screenplay for “Atonement” (2007). His writing for the stage has also won him two Tony Awards. Is another trophy on the way?
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