Dominic Dromgoole’s production of Robert Holman’s stage trilogy comes to the screen, in a film released in selected cinemas from 19 July. I’m watching from an online screener on a smart TV, so almost get the full cinematic experience of this intimate staging writ large.
Open Palm Films was launched in 2016 by Drumgoole following the end of his tenure as artistic director at Shakespeare’s Globe. Making Noise Quietly is the first of five films to be completed, two others having already made their debuts at film festivals in the UK.
The film is split into three distinct sections, punctuated by solo piano. In part one, we’re in a wartime village, with chiming church bells, and the mundane issues which feature in everyday life. By the third part, we have gone through years of conflict, but see that the considerations and fears remain the same.
It is always a complex undertaking to transfer stage plays to the screen, and Making Noise Quietly has more of a feel of the BBC Screen Ones than a fully-fledged big-budget production; even with opened-out locations and naturalistic settings, the pacing and dialogue remains very theatrical. I don’t mind. I rather like the concept of filmed theatre, and some of Dromgoole’s set-ups are rather beautiful in their scope.
Part one, Being Friends, concerns the friendship between a Quaker consciencious objector and a homosexual artist, and how they come to understand each other alongside the background of missing sons, suspicion, and “honey still for tea”. Matthew Tennyson returns to the part he played at the Donmar, the fey Eric, and displays a compelling screen performance, with Luke Thompson finding some sympathy in the role of the “conchie”.
In the second part, Lost, we deal with loss and catastrophe in the Falklands War, in 1982, where a mother (Barbara Marten) is told of the death of her son in action. She’s very proud, resolute, and stoic – but this was the section which lost its way, just a little, for me. Perhaps it never takes flight or feels anything other than awkward.
Finally, in the third part which gives the film its title, we meet a steely German woman (Deborah Findlay) who has survived the camps forty years previously, and her interactions with a squaddie who has seen the devastation in the Falklands. It’s a powerful piece, and Findlay is good, even if we have seen similar characters and arguments on screen before.
The camera is almost voyeuristic across the film, sometimes settling back to show the main characters in deep focus, sometimes observing from unusual angles such as beneath a bicycle and behind a row of glasses, sometimes in long shot (the dots of land girls, running, quick cuts between faces and hands), but sometimes this is to the detriment of the piece, which should stand for itself.
Making Noise Quietly is a laudable attempt to open out a trilogy which is not without its problems and contradictions. In a film version it is sometimes more fitting to play with timelines and text than to be completely faithful to the source (think how different the multiple screen versions of Rattigan’s Seperate Tables have been).
This is a film with its full potential just out of reach, with nuggets of excellence. It makes the best of a trio of plays which already feel a little leaden and Dromgoole does his best to give them a lively screen treatment: he almost succeeds.
Making Noise Quietly is on a limited cinema release from 19 July. Photo credits – Open Palm Films.