For film director James Kent, this is a nerve-wracking week waiting for the critics’ response to not one but two big projects. First came his film The Aftermath, released last week. Then,today, the BBC drama MotherFatherSon kicks off with an opening episode directed by Kent.
He describes MotherFatherSon as “a psychological thriller about family and power.” He directed the first two and final two episodes of the eight-part series. Working with its star, Richard Gere was “amazing”. Gere had seen and admired Kent’s debut film Testament of Youth, based on Vera Brittain’s critically acclaimed memoir of World War One. “He’s a very warm, gentle man who takes his work very seriously,” says Kent of Gere. “Working with him you have to be on your game. He’s a Buddhist, so he liked Testament of Youth’s themes of peace and reconciliation.”
The Aftermath returns to similar themes, this time the aftermath of World War Two in Germany. It stars Keira Knightley as the wife of a British army officer who finds herself drawn to a handsome German widower with an ambiguous past. Why did Kent pick this period and setting? “I think it’s very little covered and rather unknown that the British had this responsibility to run this huge area of Germany, and what I loved about it is that they were so responsible and generous considering the horrors they discovered and still refused to become vengeful” he says. “I also felt that it was something that we could all learn from, especially in the current climate”
In MotherFatherSon today’s politics also resonate. The story centres on Gere as a media magnate and Billy Howle as his son Caden who can’t cope with the pressure of being his heir. “It asks questions about politics and journalism. Do we trust the media to do the right thing? As the series goes on, it becomes very dark.”
Kent, a member of the famous Rakusen clan of matzah fame, grew up as part of the Jewish community of Harrogate. Now he lives near the Central Synagogue in Great Portland Street, and goes there occasionally but mostly practises Judaism “in my head.” His family lost nine members in Auschwitz. The Aftermath is as much about reconciliation as it is about learning from history “My grandparents had very strong views about the Germans, because obviously they came out of the war as adults, so it was interesting for me, born in 1962, to think about it differently.
“I’ve been to Germany a number of times and I found people generally very gentle as a result of the long shadow of the war, and as a Jew I felt much more kinship than my grandparents would have felt, for understandable reasons”
He also feels that someone like Lubert (Knightley’s love interest in the film) who is largely a “good” German, seemed like someone with whom he could sympathise. “I feel quite strongly that it’s something we ought to be doing rather than driving each other apart.”
Kent isn’t quite done with historical love stories just yet. “There is a film I’m trying to put together about the love affair between Ingrid Bergman and Robert Capa, the war photographer, so yes that is more love I guess.”
MotherFatherSon is on BBC2 at 9pm Wednesday March 6
The Aftermath is on general release