Passion projects can be notoriously tricky. When Stanley Kubrick began work on his period piece Barry Lyndon, he had already had his own dream story knocked back by the studios, having been long planning an epic film on the life of Napoleon. Alternatively, passion projects can also fall foul of director ego, stretching the limitations of the story, schedule and crew. Kubrick was a well documented perfectionist, relying on his cast and crew to step up to the challenge as much as he did on every project. Such was his creative process. This process provides the backdrop for Kubrick by Candlelight, a short film by writer/director David O’Reilly, whose fictional story takes place behind the scenes of the shooting of Barry Lyndon, in the South of Ireland, in 1973.
Such as it is, the film (narrated by the dulcet tones of Brian Cox) revolves around the sweet ‘meet cute’ of Paul (Darragh O’Toole) and Mary (Amy Hughes), an extra and assistant director on the shoot, respectively. Paul is cheeky, talky and charming, while Amy is smart, cool and as numerous characters around the couple like to repeatedly state, out of his league. Add to the mix, another assistant, a slimy slice of bastard named Mark (Mark Lawrence), vying for her affections and you’ve got yourself a War Room shaped love triangle. And while that may seem a stretch of a comparison, Kubrick by Candlelight revels in such finely miniscule references to the master director’s filmography.
Indeed, half the pleasure of the film is in spotting the myriad homage to films such as A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket (and hats off to Lisa Moore for going full Sergeant Hartman), even, deliciously, Killer’s Kiss.
More impressive still is the attention to detail invested in the look of the film, not just in the fine use of locations (including many of Barry Lyndon’s actual exterior panoramas), but also in the crafting of the film’s aesthetic, using the one point perspective much favoured by the director, as well as a stunning recreation of that film’s cinematography. Director of photography Stil Williams (who recently shot the sublimely visual short film Neon, and a name to remember, mark my words), given the unenviable task of recreating the lighting of John Alcott, does absolute wonders here, forcing this particular reviewer to even pause and compare certain shots.
But what really hits home is the sweet-natured story of the two lovers, whose ‘ships passing in the night’ romance has more than enough charm and chemistry (both O’Toole and Hughes bounce off each other beautifully) to allow all the homage and references to fade into the background, much as the elusive Kubrick (played by Michael Nolan, whose resemblance may one day earn him the moniker of ‘double-take’) himself does.
Thus, Kubrick by Candlelight turns out, refreshingly, to be much more than a simple spoof. It plays off those old fashioned tropes of the romantic comedy (he’s a diamond in the rough, she’s so pretty that it hurts), yet manages to avoid cliché, by sheer exuberance. It is, in fact, a love letter to cinema, to screwball comedy, to old fashioned romance, to perfectionism and to the comradely nature that can exist on a film set.
And in that respect, it’s easy to fall for its charms, even if you have no idea who Stanley Kubrick was, or why CRM 114 was so important to him.
O’Reilly’s screenplay also manages to have time for a plot, involving a couple of locals who capitalize on Kubrick’s desire for real candlelight, by heisting every white stick of waxy illumination they can get their hands on, from every church in the area, while the film’s coup de gras utilizes the well publicized story of the IRA’s threats on the production and Kubrick’s family, which caused the film to shut down and up sticks back to England, but which here is the catalyst for our couples’ inevitable parting.
That the film manages to pack so much into its slender running time, is nothing short of remarkable, and it’s interesting to learn that O’Reilly, along with his producer Vinnie Jassal, has plans to extend it to a feature.
A great idea. There is so much love, care and attention in this film that these 20 minutes of superb storytelling deserve to flesh out its world, its characters and its concept.
A passion project indeed.
Kubrick by Candlelight is currently doing the festival circuit. For more information, visit the film’s website: https://www.kubrickbycandlelight.com/
You can read our interview with writer director David O’Reilly here.
STARS: Darragh O’Toole, Amy Hughes
RUNTIME: 18 mins