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Q & A With Martin Sorsese
March 26, 2009

The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, first mentioned the idea for a film on Queen Victoria to Graham King. What was your initial reaction when Graham told you about it?

I was intrigued. Over the years, I've become more and more interested in history – reading as much as I can. And the idea of a film that is really about the acquisition of power, the young life of a woman who took the throne at the age of 18, and who eventually became not just the Queen of England but a ruler who left such an indelible mark on her own time that an entire era was named after her – that's what really struck me. 

What kind of approach does a director need to take to a period film in order to bring in a young, contemporary audience?

I suppose that you need to make the past present – that's the best way of putting it. Of course, the past always is present, and the deeper you go into a given period, the more alive it becomes for you. It's all in the details: the texture of the weave in a fabric, the temperature of a room, the light, the writing implements, the kitchen, the cuisine. It's the social history, the kind of thing that puts you within the context of the characters and their historical framework. The filmmakers' job is to take their own excitement and work from it, bring it to the screen. Which Jean-Marc and Julien have done with The Young Victoria. They're both enormously talented in extremely different ways, and I think they made a great creative team. And the actors – Emily Blunt, Miranda Richardson, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Jim Broadbent, with whom I had such a good working experience on Gangs of New York…they all did a tremendous job.

What's your view on feature films and historical accuracy? How much poetic license should filmmakers allow themselves? Is there a line which shouldn't be crossed?

In the days of the studio system, a lot of lines were crossed historically, particularly when it came to American history. For instance, I like They Died with Their Boots On as a Raoul Walsh/Erroll Flynn picture, but as a biography of General Custer it's a complete fantasy. In the 70s, you started to see a kind of corrective to this way of falsifying history. You could say that up to about 1960, filmmakers felt an obligation to "print the legend,” as one of the characters says at the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance by John Ford. And then, it went the other way. For my generation, it was necessary to go the other way, to expose what was behind the curtain of public record. There was more harshness, greater accuracy, greater scrutiny of the historical record. Now, I think some of the excitement of the older, more fanciful films has come back, but the respect for history has also increased. So, I'm not sure if there's a line that can't be crossed. I just think that you have to have a sense of history as your starting ground. 

Do you like multi tasking – ie you're filming a contemporary crime thriller and discussing a period love story at the same time. 

Do I like multi-tasking? I'm not sure, but I find myself doing it. Frequently.

You're interests are clearly wide ranging – the Harrison documentary following on your work with the Stones to Shutter Island to producing a film about an 18 year old Queen of England. Is there a genre of film that you feel you haven't tackled yet and would like to?

It would be interesting to do a western. A war film. If it was the right material.

Has your approach to the work changed over the years, do you think? In Berlin last year you said that the anger you felt as a younger man was still there but it was channelled more now. Could you expand on that?

I think it's happened for me in the way it happens for many people. I'm not as prone to outbursts as I was when I was younger. Or, I can have more of a sense of hum


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