Ray Barrett gave birth to a calf, Richard Roxburgh melted his
shoe and burnt his fingers, and Miranda Otto has gone black with
smokey eyes; as for Brenda Blethyn, she cracks them all up.
Itís not your usual shoot, this, locked down in the single
location on the floor of the Kanimbla Valley in the Blue
Mountains, in a weatherboard cottage stuck at the end of a
Among the unusual elements of In The Winter Dark is a script
without dialogue for 40 minutes (not all at once) and surprising
moments of humour in an otherwise dark, brooding story that is
about fear, death, love and the demons of the night.
Adapted from Tim Wintonís novella (by the director James
Bogle and Peter Rasmussen), it is an intense psychological drama
around four people who live in a remote spot. Maurice (Ray
Barrett) and Ida (Brenda Blethyn) are on old married couple
whoíve said all they have to say to each other decades ago.
One neighbour is Murray Jacob (Richard Roxburgh), a lonely,
intense man with a tragic past; the other is a late arrival, a
young woman, Ronnie (Miranda Otto), who is six months pregnant
and recently abandoned by her boyfriend. Something is killing the
local animals, and Ronnieís pregnancy stirs up memories of
the Stubbsí sonís cot death. Fears and shadows play on
their minds, making the four uneasy associates.
"I got really carried
away with it actually and found it a terrific
Ray Barrett on helping give birth to a calf
A day on set is filled with surprises: like the story of how
Ray Barrett was called out to a Camden farm to help give birth to
a calf even before the rest of the cast had signed their
contracts, as director James Bogle snapped up an opportunity to
film a real calving for one scene.
Barrett, "worried at first how Iíd handle it,"
says the 70 year old actor, but he soon found he handled it fine:
"I got really carried away with it actually and found it a
terrific experience." Later, the scene has to be matched and
edited into the entire sequence. Barrett, staying with his wife
Gail in a rented house overlooking some of the mountainsí
top views near Leura, is enthralled with his role as Maurice
Stubbs, who nurses his wifeís dead body at the start of the
film, and recounts the events that led up to it in flashback.
"People kept telling
me I had the most wonderful script, but it was too
Barrett has stuck to this film for three years while producer
Rosemary Blight went around the world trying to raise money for
"People kept telling me I had the most wonderful script,
but it was too dark. James Bogle and I are unknown as filmmakers,
so it was difficult. But people stayed interestedÖand I got
quite obsessed with it. I pitched it about 350 times in five days
at the film market in Milan in 1996, and people started to
"But she stuck with
Rosemary Blight on Brenda Blethyn's Golden Globe win
At the same time, Bogle went to London and wrote to Brenda
Blethyn, asking her to please do it. When he rang her agent, he
was welcomed with open arms, and Blethyn accepted. That was
before she won the Golden Globe award or the Oscar nomination for
Secrets and Lies. "But she stuck with us," says a
delighted Blight. "She said sheís here because of James
Bogleís incredibly strong understanding of the script."
Blethyn plays Ida, who has lived at this remote spot for over
30 years "and never felt at home," says Blethyn, rugged
up against a chilly afternoon wind that shifts across the valley
floor in the early spring.
"This is a great
company and we can have fun," actress Brenda Blethyn
"We should always have fun," she says, smiling
mischievously. "This is a great company and we can have fun,
but it doesnít compromise the work."
She didnít see a kangaroo for days, but then when she
did, she started dreaming about them every night.
Blethyn took to the script, she says, "because itís
about four people who live in this wide open space but their
lives are so claustrophobic."
"I saw my shoes
Richard Roxburgh on set
Richard Roxburghís fingers were still a bit sore when we
met for a morning coffee (after a midnight shoot) at his hotel,
the smartly relaxed Lilianfels. "Iíd been sitting with
my shoes up on this big drum in which the crew had built a fire,
and saw my shoes smoking, and when I went to touch them, I felt
all this melted plastic . . ." The unit nurse finally had
something to do, and by morning he was joking about it.
He says of his character that Jacob is an "enigmatic,
melancholy soul who delivered himself to the valley to live as a
recluse. We worked out a back story in which his wifeís
death had this effect on him, because in the book, itís a
divorce and the death of a child. But the childís death had
been transferred to Maurice and Ida. . . "
Roxburgh says when heís playing Jacob he feels "like
an Easter Island head."
By contrast, Miranda Ottoís Ronnie is a youthful bundle
of anger, dressed this day in black leather jeans, army boots
with purple laces, and smokey eyes beneath a mop of spiky black
hair. Itís a wig, she explains, because she is running back
to the set of The Thin Red Line in Queensland as a natural
"The challenge is to
rediscover that anger." actress Miranda Otto
When Otto first read the script, she responded eagerly to
Ronnieís character, being herself at that stage "angry
and mad at the world." Now, she says, "Iím much
happier in my own life, so the challenge is to rediscover that
anger." Perhaps itís to do with being in love with
Roxburgh, off set.
She is led back inside the cottage for one of the rare scenes
of open fun, as Ronnie and Ida get "wrecked" on two
bottles of red wine. "The girls bonding," as producer
Blight puts it.
Otto lies on her back, a glass of wine resting on her slightly
pregnant tummy; Blethyn is in an armchair, her feet casually
propped up on the coffee table between them. They start giggling
even before the camera rolls, and exchange their lines with ease.
Otto spills wine as she refills her glass, and Ida offers to lend
her something more fitting (less fitting) for a pregnant girl.
Idaís foot slips off the table, out of control. They giggle
and stagger off camera. Take two is sloppy, but take three is
great. Print that one, says Bogle. The camera is re-positioned to
do the close ups for the scene, as the weak afternoon sun lights
up the escarpment behind the cottage and birds sing in the
approach of dusk.