- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Jeremy Brock has built a solid career writing what might be described as period films.

Judi Dench’s portrayal of Queen Victoria in 1997’s “Mrs. Brown” was Oscar-nominated. “Charlotte Gray” (2001) had Cate Blanchett as a World War II French Resistance courier. Mr. Brock also co-wrote “The Last King of Scotland,” currently in theaters, which stars Forest Whitaker as 1970s Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

For his directorial debut, however, the English writer chose a subject closer to home. “Driving Lessons,” which opens tomorrow, stars Rupert Grint (known best as Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter films) as a suburban London teenager who escapes his overbearing mother (Oscar nominee Laura Linney) through his friendship with an aging actress (Julie Walters).

It’s a fanciful coming-of-age story, but Mr. Brock says the film is grounded in reality.

“It’s based loosely on what I experienced living in a vicarage, being brought up by a very controlling mum, and on the friendship I had with [Dame] Peggy Ashcroft,” Mr. Brock says during a recent swing through the District to promote his new film.

“Like a lot of the movies I love, like ‘Sideways’ or ‘My Life as a Dog’ or ‘The Graduate,’ it’s a slight exaggeration of reality.”

It’s close enough to real life to have made writing it difficult. Miss Ashcroft died in 1991. Mr. Brock’s parents are still alive, but his mother doesn’t know about the film.

“I would not have written the movie had she not had Alzheimer’s,” Mr. Brock says. “She’s the only character in the movie that would be unhappy at finding themselves in it.”

Mr. Brock says his movie is “about faith and friendship.” Yet, he acknowledges a certain reticence in communicating his own religious beliefs in the film. “It isn’t clear. I don’t want it to be,” he says.

“My feelings about religion are that the best kind of religion is Dad’s kind, and it’s a kind that allows people to make their own mind up. The worst kind of religion is the kind that doesn’t allow for different opinion, doesn’t allow you to imagine your own relationship to God. That’s mum’s religion.”

He goes on to explain that the mother in “Driving Lessons” is always “doing good without thinking about it,” a trait that eventually gets her into trouble. It’s a theme that’s also explored in “The Last King of Scotland.” Mr. Brock’s work as a writer on the film involved fleshing out the relationship between Amin and the character of Nicholas Garrigan, a Scottish doctor who became the dictator’s physician and unwitting enabler.

“Last King” has one of the year’s best scripts. Instead of making an easy film about an evil dictator, director Kevin Macdonald offers a penetrating appraisal of liberal idealism and post-colonial do-gooders.

“That is absolutely right,” Mr. Brock declares. “People who are emotional, sexual, political tourists in any shape or form need to wake up a bit. Garrigan falls with a capital ‘F’ because he goes in arrogantly assuming he can just glide over the surface.

“Nicholas is as guilty of arrogance and selfishness as any other character in the movie, like [British consul Nigel] Stone or Idi Amin,” Mr. Brock notes, calling the young Scot an “Everyman” character.

Mr. Brock’s next project, an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Brideshead Revisited” with veteran screenwriter Andrew Davies, is widely anticipated — for reasons both good and bad. It was made into a much-loved 1981 miniseries written by novelist John Mortimer. As the new writer on the upcoming film adaptation, Mr. Brock reports the script is “pretty developed” and producers hope to begin shooting by next year.

He admits tackling such a project has been “problematic.”

“I’m a sucker for a fight,” he says with a laugh.

In fact, something of an uproar ensued in literary circles when Mr. Davies announced he would be toning down the religious aspects of “Brideshead.” “Maybe there’s elements of it coming back because of my interest in that,” Mr. Brock says.

“It would be disavowing the spirit of the novel to avoid it. … Coming from a vicarage, coming from a family where religion was around me all the time, and having a kind of loosey-goosey view of religion now, there’s so much you can extrapolate from religion, so much more you can say about the world other than, ‘That’s their faith.’ ”

Rumors are rife that Jude Law will play the soul-searching Sebastian Flyte in the film. Mr. Brock says no one has been cast but agrees Mr. Law would be a good choice “because he’s got some edge to him.”

“If you’re going to tackle the book again, tackle it” with guts, he says.

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