Steven of social or political issues represented through

Steven
Knight is a British writer and director, responsible for the screenplays for
such films as ‘Dirty Pretty Things’
and ‘Locke’, and the popular BBC TV
serials ‘Taboo’ and ‘Peaky Blinders’. Despite being employed
on various screenplay projects (such as David Fincher’s upcoming sequel to ‘World War Z’), Knight specialises in
social realism and has a self-confessed interest in dialogue as a device for
storytelling. Social realist film usually feature the working class as protagonists,
and the exploration of social or political issues represented through the
characters and setting. This is an interesting and essential genre because lots
of filmmaking and media production in general is populated by the middle-upper
classes, so the representation that social realism allows is important.

Knight’s interest with storytelling lies most particularly in “where dialogue
takes you when you just let it go” (Knight, 2014); he suggests that a plot can
be allowed to form organically through knowing your characters, as this allows
the writer to know what their characters would say in any given situation. I
find this to be a fascinating and unique approach to scriptwriting and tried to
apply it to my own work in this module by creating detailed character profiles
during the writing process in order to get to know my characters. In this essay,
I will be exploring common themes in Knight’s work, investigating his writing process
and reflecting on how his work has influenced my writing for this module.

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I
have recently been particularly enthralled by Steven Knight’s ‘Locke’ (2014), which is a very clever
piece of storytelling and a detailed character study, and the main reason why I
have chosen to write this essay about its screenwriter. The central driving
force of the plot is that Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), a blue-collar construction
worker, has made a mistake. Ivan feels he has had his personality and choices shaped
by his experience of having a neglectful father, so he actively tries to mould
himself into the absolute opposite of that role model through his attitude and
choices with regard to this mistake. The story unfolds through Ivan Locke’s increasingly
emotional hands-free phone conversations with family and co-workers on a claustrophobic,
real-time drive down a busy motorway at night. The viewer must be able to visualise
the story as there are is only one actor on-screen, meaning the audience must
be completely engrossed in the Ivan Locke’s predicament through dialogue alone.

Due to its reliance on dialogue, this movie was written in a similar manner to that
of a radio play as the supporting cast was unseen and played their voice roles
from a hotel conference room with a phone link to the car Hardy was situated in.

This is a compelling dynamic as the film includes all the necessary components
of a conventional plot (e.g. stasis: Ivan is happy at home with a wife and a
job; trigger: Ivan slept with a work colleague 8 months previously who is now
going into early labour; quest: go to see the baby and thereby disregard his
neglectful father’s influence; critical choice: Ivan must choose between work
and family or what he thinks is right; climax: Ivan’s wife leaves, he loses his
job; resolution: the baby is born, and Ivan does what he thinks is right) and
it is essentially a drama/thriller, but it all takes place in a very confined
space, and with only one actor on-screen and the rest performing from afar.

 

The
film is almost exclusively reliant on dialogue to propel the plot and build
tension, and therefore needs a concise script that delivers information quickly
and effectively, which Knight delivers. Knight has an astute command of tone
and pacing, which allows him to very effectively build tension, even when not
much is happening. Though perhaps not completely of its own kind, ‘Locke’ is a fascinating experiment in
minimalist filmmaking and character study, as the entirety of the action is
confined to the inside of Ivan’s car and therefore the focus is entirely on
Ivan, his character and his predicament. A notably effective tension builder in
the script is the constant “call waiting” notification heard through the
speakerphone as Ivan’s life breaks down around him throughout the course of the
film. Due to the filming taking place exclusively in one location (inside a car
on the M6) and the film being shot from beginning to end every night for eight
days, Jonathan Romley of The Guardian described ‘Locke’ as “a compressed theatrical stage” (Romley, 2014). This is
quite an apt description, and this restriction in space and time allows the
tension to be built superbly around Ivan and his interactions with the people
in his life over his hands-free phone as the audience is placed into Ivan’s uncomfortably
small world.

 

Throughout
‘Locke’, Knight mimics and plays with
the idea of the traditional story arc by setting the film on a motorway. A
motorway is perhaps the most physically linear setting one could possibly find:
the road ahead is the future, the road behind is the past, and the rear-view
mirror is the driver’s window to the past. All this rather cleverly allows the
film to fall somewhere between metaphor and reality as Ivan’s life changes the
further along the journey from Birmingham to London he gets. The narrative is
so well-delivered and concise that when Ivan is not occupied by the hands-free
phone during the film he is giving the audience more backstory by talking to
his father in the rear-view mirror, as if leaving him and his influence behind
as he drives along the motorway. Romley and other critics saw this as clumsy exposition
and I suppose perhaps it could be viewed as such, but obviously, there’s only
so much you can reveal about a character when they have no appearance in the
film but for in Ivan’s memory. Not only is the narrative concise but there is
much to be said for the actual language in the script. Knight wrote the script
in a week, and despite this seemingly hasty timeframe he still manages to use
fantastical language that makes concrete-pouring almost romantic: for example,
Ivan says to his protégé (Andrew Scott) “do it for the piece of sky we are
stealing for our building, for the concrete which is as delicate as blood”.

Ivan’s passion for his construction work is evident and despite the
indiscretion that is the driving force of the plot, he is overall an incredibly
likeable protagonist. This may be partly due to Hardy’s delivery of the lines
in a gentle South Wales accent, which was loosely based on Richard Burton’s
famously soothing tones.

 

Alongside
‘Locke’, another example of Knight’s
social realism is his writing for ‘Peaky
Blinders’ (2013-present). The series is about a working-class Birmingham
street gang in the turbulent years just after World War One. The name ‘Peaky
Blinders’ comes in reference to a non-fictional Birmingham street gang from the
Victorian era who came about due to tensions created by the low economic growth
in central and northern England. Stephen Knight, being Birmingham-born himself,
is passionate about exposing the history and culture of the midlands in TV and
film, hence why Ivan Locke is a construction worker from Birmingham in ‘Locke’. Knight  Despite essentially being a crime drama,
‘Peaky Blinders’ explores the complexities of post-traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD), or “shell-shock” as it was known at the time, in the war-torn
West-Midlands. This is a dynamic which allows for interesting exploration of
character and of PTSD itself. The show doesn’t sugar-coat the reality of living
with such a disorder, and features characters displaying symptoms. For example,
the character of Danny has violent outbursts, which earn him the nickname
“Whizz-Bang”, after the word used to describe the noise that German artillery shells
made. Similarly, Tommy Shelby has flashbacks to the war in the show, and he is
shown having trouble sleeping. The show also depicts Tommy and Danny
self-medicating by smoking brown opium from a pipe, which was a common coping
mechanism amongst soldiers with shell-shock (D.K. Bergen-Cico, 2012). All this
is shot in naturalistic lighting, another trademark of the social realist
genre, which makes the series feel much more raw and visceral.  

 

Knight’s
writing and his philosophy on writing have influenced my own work greatly.

Particularly in ‘Locke’, Knight’s
ability to write dialogue – without even needing the actors on-screen to
deliver their lines – in a manner that allows character development and
effective advancement of the plot, whilst also keeping the audience engaged, is
quite masterful. It is also fascinating that Knight managed to write the
screenplay in such a way that could make eighty-four minutes of one man in a
car so completely engaging. This is the kind of ability I aspire to have. Knight
said in a 2014 interview that he likes to allow his characters to converse
freely and divert from the original plot because “the conversation they have
might change the plot you have in your head”. I loved the idea of allowing
characters to converse without too much direction or interference and tried to
apply that to my scriptwriting for the assessment. This had surprising results
as the plot I had in my head did change as I let my characters converse freely.

Originally, the whole short film was supposed to take place in the afterlife,
but as I let my characters speak the plot organically developed to have a scene
in real life.

 

Finally,
in a thematic sense, I am inspired by Knight’s writing because to me social
realism is a particularly interesting and necessary genre and I am interested
in writing more of it. The  narrative of
my script isn’t social realist, but I tried to use a little social realism in
my script by tackling the issue of teenage pregnancy and attitudes towards it
but I wanted to give it the somewhat surreal element of being set between life
and death to make it more interesting in terms of the story. However, Knight’s particular
talent is making social realism engrossing without needing to add extra interest
factors such as magic or a fantasy setting. This kind of skill is one that
needs practice to get right, but I feel like Knight’s work is a good place to
start.