Film director Bruce Robinson talks about sex and booze and village halls with Graham Young.
Actor turned screenwriter and Withnail & I film director Bruce Robinson lives in a rural Herefordshire idyll, a mile from his nearest neighbour.
To keep warm, the 65-year-old rebel has to ignore the freezing cold to carry armfuls of wood back indoors.
As a great friend of the ultra-rich Captain Jack star Johnny Depp, this is a very British reinterpretation of that old shipmates’ phrase: ‘Shiver me timbers’.
But then Bruce, who directed Depp in last year’s film The Rum Diary, has never led a conventional life.
He left school unable to write and still can’t spell, yet he was Oscar-nominated in 1985 for The Killing Fields’ screenplay.
The biggest disadvantage to his acting career in the late ‘60s was being too handsome too soon.
As a disillusioned actor who wanted to move into writing during the ‘70s, he discovered he was still too good looking to be taken seriously even as a scribe.
“I was,” he says, “a pretty bastard.”
Married to Upstairs Downstairs star Lesley-Anne Down for a decade from 1969, he has a daughter called Lily India and son Willoughby by children’s book illustrator Sophie Windham, whom he married in 1984.
Now old enough for a bus pass, Bruce feels less inclined to want to rock the world, and more likely to sit back and watch everything from the railways’ debate to the latest NHS ‘crisis’ go round again and again.
The contradiction of being a filmmaker living so far from a multiplex metropolis makes Bruce an ideal star attraction at the tenth Borderlines Film Festival, especially as Bafta has never put on a village hall event before.
Billed as the ‘UK’s biggest rural film festival’, it’s also now the Midlands’ largest of any kind with 14,358 patrons last year.
It opened in Shropshire, Herefordshire and the Welsh Marches this week, and runs until March 11 and then returns for several days in May.
From barn to pub, village hall to town hall and from stately home to aircraft hangar, there will be 260 screenings across 27 days in 42 venues, most of which are temporary cinemas.
Bruce has concluded that there’s no single better day than one spent reading books, but he’s eager to bang the drum for films, too.
“We must preserve and protect film,” he urges. “It’s the greatest medium for artists that has ever existed, whether you’re an actor, writer, singer, musician... it’s limitless.
“I became a writer, my sister an artist, yet we didn’t have a book in the house. Just lino.
“I am really lucky and privileged to have been involved with films.”
A product of the old secondary modern system, Bruce says he never dreamed that he would ever travel to the United States.
“My grandmother was born before flight and died after Concorde. That is how the world has changed.
“You were lucky if you came out of my school able to read and write.
“Being a writer wouldn’t cross your mind. I couldn’t write. I had to force myself. I still can’t spell.
“I was in plays and good at them so I thought I would go to drama school and be an actor.
“Even though I couldn’t write, my friends called me The Bard.
“Slowly, I thought, ‘I can write’. It’s something I was driven to do.
“I read an essay by George Orwell once and he was saying the same thing.
“That people used to laugh at him and he’d say: ‘I can’t do it yet but I will do it’.
“Today, I would be very happy if I could just spend my life reading, but I can’t afford to do it!”
As an actor in The Story of Adele H (1975), he learned how a director like François Truffaut, could be really caring and gentle.
“I thought: ‘If I could ever be a film director I would hope I could be like you’,” says Bruce.
By then, his performer’s confidence had been long damaged, thanks to being cast in the 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet by the openly gay Franco Zeffirelli, now 89.