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HomeArts & CultureTheir Finest star Bill Nighy and producer Stephen Woolley on the nostalgic film's topical message

Their Finest star Bill Nighy and producer Stephen Woolley on the nostalgic film's topical message

British actor Bill Nighy walked the red carpet at the Dubai International Film Festival on Friday night at a gala screening of his latest movie, the Second World War drama Their Finest.

But with the fifth film of the Underworld franchise still in local cinemas, and given that he played Vampire elder Viktor earlier in the series, it seems his mind was at least partly on all things undead.

“I want my own vampire franchise,” he says. “I’m quite serious. I want episodes one, two, three, four and five. I know the suit, I know what to do with my hair, it’s contemporary, it’s urban, it’s hell.”

Nighy even seems to have gone some way towards writing his own script.

“I’d be trying to die because I don’t want to be immortal any more,” he says. “It’s all too much. But every time I get overexcited about the plight of humankind and the injustice of the world I revert to the immortal vampire. That’s what I want. If anybody out there would like to write that, I’m here.”

Following global success and acclaim in films including Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Pirates of the Caribbean and Love Actually, Nighy’s wish might yet be granted – especially when you realise that Their Finest producer Stephen Woolley was also behind the 1994 film adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.

But Nighy admits that even with his reputation, he doesn’t always get the roles he wants.

“I once got a call from my agent saying, ‘Hamlet – Moscow, Tokyo, Asia’,” he says. “I said, ‘No, I don’t want to play Hamlet.’ She said, ‘No, not Hamlet, Claudius. You’re going to be Hamlet’s uncle.’ That’s when you know you’ve passed 40. You know how you’re doing, in terms of how you look, in a very specific way if you’re an actor because the jobs you get offered just tell you.”

Nighy is now 66 and there is perhaps an element of art imitating life in Their Finest – his character, actor Ambrose Hilliard, is offered a part in a morale-boosting propaganda film as part of Britain’s war effort during the Second World War, only to find that he is not to play hero Johnnie, but the father of the movie’s twin heroines.

In a sense, Their Finest’s film within a film is a historical document – though in this era of growing concern about the spread and influence of “fake news” and distrust of the media, Woolley notes that the movie also has a very modern message.

“The people making these films were incredibly responsible,” he says. “Now, there doesn’t seem to be much responsibility. You can say almost anything and then retract it within a second.

“We can see in the film they had to go to various ministries and get everything right – ‘We can’t lie about this, we can’t lie about that’ – and even though the film they are making isn’t entirely truthful, everything had to be rubber-stamped. You couldn’t actually make a film that told a downright lie.”

This tightly regulated method of disseminating information is something Wooley notes has been lost in the age of social media.

“It seems now propaganda is a very different thing,” he says. “There’s no sense of responsibility about what people say. I’m shocked at the number of tweets people send that are just rubbish.”

The producer brings up a few topical examples.

“Look at Brexit, that was a brilliant one,” he says. “The whole thing was based on completely unreliable information that nobody was ever able to deliver. Then the election in America – it’s just ridiculous.

“There was just a greater sense of responsibility [in the time the film is set], like they wouldn’t show people being tortured in prisoner-of-war camps because it could be lead to the enemy actually torturing people in prisoner of war camps. There was a sense of fair play that just doesn’t seem to exist anymore.”

Nighy, too, believes the film has a message and lessons for the modern world, particularly regarding the struggle faced by the female characters.

“On our way to total civilisation – and you’ll no doubt have observed we’ve got a long way to go yet – we need totally gender equality,” he says. “Speaking personally, as an Englishman, great process has been made for women in our society, but not enough.

“As Martin Amis said, it’s all just men getting away with everything, and they’ve been getting away with it for a long time. It really is one of the major issues affecting the development of the human race, and there’s a lot of work to be done.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m some expert on gender politics but, well, I suppose that’s stopped the conversation now hasn’t it?”

On the contrary, it is only by respected, high-profile public figures like Nighy talking openly about such meaningful subjects that conversations start and continue.

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