Venus Peter - The making of a film by Ian Sellar

Thursday, 10 February 2022  |  Admin

The following is an excerpt from the Venus Peter Blu-ray booklet - written by director Ian Sellar.

What follows is a deeply flawed history of the making of a film. Flawed because it is a director writing it, and flawed because time has no doubt adjusted whatever truth was there in the first place.

It started with the offer from Chris Young for me to direct a script that Christopher Rush had adapted from his book, “A Twelvemonth and a Day”.  

The script must have been at least five hours long and epic in every way.  I rang up Chris and said there was no way I could make this film, it was too long, and the leap from book to script had somehow stifled the originality of the material. But, instead of it all ending at that, Chris took on my notes and we began what was to become a long creative relationship.

The book truly is epic, full of characters and events like a wonderfully scattered jigsaw portrait of a time and a place. Christopher Rush had used each month as a chapter and thus created a structure to hold the early events of his life together.  The film did not have that option so our story had to be reformed out of the individual pieces.

A couple of months on I rang up Chris Young with the question, “Can we afford a whale?” Chris didn’t hesitate, “Of course we can afford a whale”. Little did I know that, at the time, Chris could barely afford a shirt.

I progressed on the script and Chris Rush was generous in his comments and soon Chris Young felt he had something with which he could start approaching financiers.

First he needed to get a package together, locations, cast etc.  The location seemed simple, go to St Monans because that is where the book is set.

But nothing is that simple.  As already established by the book St Monans was no longer the busy fishing community.  With industry gone the place had been tidied up in a National Trust kind of way.  We needed to find a community still untouched by corporate cleanliness.

It was winter, there was certainly snow involved, when Chris and I set off up the coast looking at every fishing village we passed.  In truth we were looking for something that seemed difficult to define until we had seen it.  So we careered up the East Coast of Scotland until we had gone as far as we could go. The choice now was whether to go on down the West Coast or do the ridiculous - head for the islands.  And that is how we found ourselves in Orkney.

Not only did we find ourselves in Orkney, one of the most remarkable places on earth, but in Stromness, a town that still lived by its harbour and where boats were still part of the culture.  Immediately it felt right.  Immediately we felt welcomed.

Venus Peter has been restored in high definition by Panamint Cinema from the 35 mm internegative master held at the BFI National Archives, and is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.