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People In Film | John Madden

John Madden | Paying The Debt

Based on Ha-Hov, a 2007 Israeli film, The Debt was initially slated to be directed by Matthew Vaughn, who scripted the movie with his writing partner, Jane Goldman. At a certain point, however, Vaughn had to focus on another project, his 2010 film Kick-Ass. That's when John Madden took over the job of helming this powerful thriller of three Israeli agents forced to revisit a mission from their past. From the very start, the highly respected English director fell in love with The Debt, recognizing in it a subtlety that is rare in genre movies and harks back to a different era of filmmaking. “It's a thriller, but it's an unusual one,” Madden told DVD Outsider. “Certainly my models were an earlier manifestation of that form, the Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor kind of realm... I was attracted by the opportunity to do two things at once: to tell a very good, suspenseful story but at the same time deal with a kind of psychological depth and complexity that you don't expect in that kind of film.”

John Madden | Cops and Costume Dramas

Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect: The Lost Child

Like most prominent directors, John Madden had to pay his dues before rising to the top of his profession. Madden began his career in radio, overseeing adaptations of the Stars Wars movies for NPR, for whom he also directed the first version of Arthur Kopit's play Wings. In his native England, he spent much of the 1980s working in television, on such fare as Sherlock Holmes shows and the period mini-series After the War. In 1993, he made the step up to big screen work with an adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel Ethan Frome, starring Liam Neeson and Patricia Arquette. From here onwards, Madden's directorial work has been an unlikely mix of costume dramas and thrillers, two disparate genres that he seems uniquely suited to. Accordingly, he followed Wharton's tale of 19th century romance with Golden Gate, a tense contemporary policier starring Matt Dillon as an FBI agent in San Francisco, after which he returned to the UK to take directing duties on two iconic TV cop shows, Prime Suspect (starring The Debt's Helen Mirren) and Inspector Morse.

John Madden | Finding Poetry in Period Dramas

From Shakespeare in Love

In the late 1990s, John Madden's career took a major upswing. It all began in 1997 with a “little” film called Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown, a sweet period romance starring Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, which defied all expectation by capturing the public's imagination and becoming an Oscar contender. While keeping the grandeur of period pieces, Madden brought an energy and style to such historical trappings and surprised critics with how entertaining his film was. Empire magazine’s Darren Bignell explains, “before you know it, you're caught up in a difficult but touching friendship, and enjoying a history lesson more than you ever thought possible.” Madden's movie received rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic, and Judi Dench got a Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards. Based on that success, Madden was tapped to direct Shakespeare in Love, which dominated the Oscars the following year: the crowd-pleasing period romcom won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow), Best Supporting Actress (for Judi Dench, as Queen Elizabeth I) and Best Screenplay, while Madden was nominated for Best Director.  Quite rightly the Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan pointed out, “The ringmaster who deserves the credit for keeping all these performers in sync is John Madden.” Madden solidified his reputation with historical material with his adaptation of Louis de Bernieres' WWII novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001). Yet Madden is no way stuck in the past. His critically acclaimed adaption of David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Proof (2005), with Gwyneth Paltrow, Jake Gyllenhaal and Anthony Hopkins, proved he was as adept with contemporary material as he was with period pieces.

John Madden | A Lovely Man

While John Madden has demonstrated, time and time again, his remarkable talent for breathing passion and life in to historical detail, he is also an actor’s director. Under his helm, both Judi Dench and Gwyneth Paltrow won Oscars and Helen Mirren won an Emmy for her part in Prime Suspect. Paltrow, who has worked with Madden three times now, told film critic Emanuel Levy: “John is just extraordinary, because he always finds the truth and he really has an idea and an instinct for what the emotional truth is, and how to tell it. His images are very beautiful and he's a really great storyteller and such a lovely man, nice to be around every day.” But clearly this is not a singular perspective. Author Tom Stoppard repeated a similar sentiment to the Sunday Times, exclaiming, “I don’t think I’ve had a happier relationship with a director than with John Madden on Shakespeare in Love. He didn’t want to take anything away from me. He just wanted to add to it.”

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