Here is my exclusive interview with the director.
1. What motivated you to make the film?
My motivation for the film lies mainly within the fact that I personally don’t drink, and not only that, but I just never really ‘got’ the appeal of drinking. A lot of people instantly confuse this with abstinence, but there is a big difference – It’s not like it’s against my morals to drink, I just don’t do it for the fact that I don’t find it appealing, much in the same way I don’t participate in the Great British sport of cricket because I find it incredibly boring.
British drinking culture is something I’ve always found fascinating and slightly bizarre. It’s all around you, wherever you look. It’s completely embedded in our culture, in our history, our politics. Some of our most popular TV shows are based around pubs, and then there’s the 18th birthday, weddings, religious ceremonies, all these key life events, marked with alcohol. It’s like the blood in our veins; it oils society, and lubricates us socially. For someone like myself, someone who feels they are outside of this culture looking in, it just looks ridiculous.
So there was always that idea in the back of my head. But it wasn’t until I started travelling around Europe, the USA and Asia, that I realized how strikingly different our drinking culture is in Britain. I started looking into it further, and it became immediately apparent that we have a serious problem with alcohol in the UK – a problem that nobody seems to want to acknowledge or do anything about. And that’s where the idea for A Royal Hangover was born.
2. What do you hope the film will achieve?
I hope A Royal Hangover will help people all over the World to better understand the harms of alcohol, and for the UK especially to start to develop a healthier and more logical attitude to alcohol as well as other drugs. I know this is not a problem indigenous to the UK, but I do feel that alcohol is more ingrained in British culture, compared to many other countries. To not drink in Britain, is to be ridiculed.
If this film manages to help any number of people to think about how they, as well as the people around them, use alcohol, I’ll feel like I’ve done my job.
3. Do you have personal experience of alcoholism and alcohol abuse?
I actually barely have any experience in drinking alcohol at all. I’ve tried it, but I’ve probably only drank a few pints of alcohol over my whole life. I just never really liked it, or felt the need to drink it. People would say, “you’ll learn to like it”. And I thought ‘Why? Why would I want to learn to like something I find disgusting?”. Take hot chocolate for example – I found that instantly delicious. I didn’t have to ‘learn’ to like that. And so the concept of learning to like alcohol was completely lost on me.
I have however grown up with 3 brothers who didn’t seem to have the same difficulty with enjoying alcohol as I did. I grew pretty accustomed to seeing them throwing up all over themselves, getting into drunken brawls, and even ending up in hospital on occasion.
Whereas I have been fortunate enough not to have any experiences with alcoholism or alcohol abuse myself, the same cannot be said for certain members of my family. My uncle John, who actually features in the film, drinks 2 bottles of whisky every day, and suffers from Wernicke’s encephalopathy, also known as ‘the disease of alcoholics’. He is essentially bed-bound, and doesn’t eat, can barely walk or do much of anything other than drink. He has brain damage, hearing and vision loss, as well as a myriad of other ailments due to his drinking. What is perhaps even more tragic is the effect this has on his wife and 15-year-old kid whom he lives with. They are literally prisoners to his addiction. I’ll never forget turning up at the house for filming, and my uncle not even knowing who I was. He thought it was the first time we had met.
4. Binge drinking has now been utterly normalized in British culture, after making this film what steps do we need start taking to reserve this?
I personally believe a lot of it comes down to how we educate our children in the UK. We’re hardly taught anything in school about drinking, in fact I don’t remember ever having a single lesson about it. I think education about alcohol and other drugs in schools is severely lacking. It makes me think of that famous sketch in South Park – “Drugs are bad, you shouldn’t do drugs, and alcohol is bad, you shouldn’t do alcohol”. That pretty much sums up alcohol education in schools here.
Aside from that, I think their needs to be changes in government policy, more restrictions in advertising, and less sensationalist and more responsible coverage of alcohol in the media. That would be a good start.
5. It seems to me that in our popular culture we have a massive glamorization of alcohol abuse, celebrity culture is awash with it. In the USA ‘not drinking’ is perfectly acceptable but in the UK it is seen as abnormal or extreme, something to be ridiculed. Any suggestions on how we can begin to ‘re-brand’ sobriety as something aspirational and acceptable?
Yes, I totally agree. To not drink in Britain is to be branded a weirdo basically. I myself have never had a problem with feeling like a weirdo – I used wear tights, paint my face, and body slam people for fun, as a former attempted pro wrestler.
Now, I’ve come to quite enjoy the funny looks I get when going into a bar and ordering a coke. It doesn’t bother me. But I can understand how it might bother others to feel like an exception. Peer pressure is such a huge factor when it comes to alcohol, especially for young people. If more people like myself – whether that be parents, brothers, sisters, friends, or people in the public eye like Russell Brand – actually felt comfortable about standing up and saying ‘I don’t drink’, this would encourage so many others to feel ok about doing the same, and be a step towards developing a healthier attitude towards alcohol as a culture.
6. Any plans to take the film into schools and youth clubs?
I think the film could be really useful in schools, in showing children an honest and balanced depiction of alcohol, so it’s certainly something we will consider. The first step though is to make an impact on the film festival circuit.
7. Please tell us how people can see the movie when it is released?
You’ll be able to see A Royal Hangover at film festivals internationally. We have literally only just finished the film. In fact, today is the first day in 5 months where I’m not in the edit suite! We’re planning to premiere at the BFI Film Festival in London in October. All screenings will be announced on the website, on our Facebook page, and on twitter.
8. Are their plans to show it in the USA? Although the alcohol culture is different, there are a lot of similarities in college campuses, where alcohol abuse is normalized and encouraged.
There are definitely a lot of similarities in college campuses, but I feel that outside of that, and the whole Spring Break culture, the US is quite different to the UK when it comes to alcohol culture as a whole. I think in general, attitudes towards alcohol in America tend to be a bit more logical. People seem to grow out of it to a degree, whereas in Britain it’s like the whole country is a college campus, and we’re all students going mad on alcohol.
Yes, we are planning to show the A Royal Hangover in the US. We believe the film has a lot of international appeal, as although it’s based on British drinking culture, a lot of the film’s content can be applied to other cultures.
9. What are you up to next?
Trying not to get assassinated by the drinks industry? There are a few exciting things on the horizon which come to think of it I probably can’t talk about. I’ve got a couple of short form projects coming up which will be a nice change of pace after having spent a year and a half (and counting) on A Royal Hangover!
You can see the trailer here: