WORTH A LOOK?: *****
OUT IN THE UK: 10/2
WHERE: National Theatre
Leads Denzel Washington and Viola Davis won Tonys in 2010 for their roles in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play and the film, also directed by Washington, is up for four Oscars this month.
- Read on for reasons including all the gossip from the Q&A
Author Wilson died in 2005 but completed the screenplay for this film before his death. At the Q&A Washington reveals he will be taking on responsibility for Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle of 10 plays, each detailing the African-American experience, one set in each decade of the 20th century.
Washington says: ‘He was one of the greatest playwrights in world history. His estate came and said to me: ‘Would you take care of his plays for us?’ This is our first step.’
Another of those plays, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, was staged at the National last year winning an Olivier for Best Revival and being nominated for one of our very own monstas.
He performed Fences 114 times on Broadway and is asked if he might take to the London stage: ‘There are not too many good actors in the movies that don’t come from the theatre but I don’t know. I’m having lunch with my producer Scott Rudin on Friday so it could be 2018. I try to do something every four years in the theatre, so it could be 2022.’
He first saw Fences in 1984 and empathised with baseball-loving son Cory rather than the part of his father Troy which he eventually played. He met Wilson once before his death. ‘He told me he shut all the doors to the outside and the characters just came in and spoke to him and he took down what they said.’
Asked about Davis’ extraordinary performance he remembers her having one line in an early film he directed. ‘She’s so powerful.’ He acted alongside her on the stage. ‘The difference between her performances in 2010 and 2016 is that she herself became a mother in between.’
Fences is the story of Troy Maxson (Washington), a binman in 1950s Pittsburgh, who blames racism for his failed tilt at a baseball career. We meet his best friend, wife and sons as the action revolves around his home.
Many screen adaptations of plays expand the story from its origins but that is kept to a minimum here with the emphasis on Troy’s backyard and the titular fences he builds there, perhaps to keep his family in or the threat of the world outside.
Troy’s charisma dominates the first hour but things turn darker in the second as father blocks son’s budding baseball career and Davis’ character Rose comes into her own, fully justifying her Oscar nomination, as an unexpected threat lurks outside those backyard fences.
Fences is the perfect response to the #OscarsSoWhite criticism which dominated the awards although this year finds it has much competition including Hidden Figures and Moonlight.
It’s Washington’s third film as director although it’s only as Actor where he has been shortlisted for an Oscar and could pick up his third prize on 26/2.
Fences is an example of outstanding storytelling and flawed characters making the best of what they have which translates comfortably from stage to screen and was well received by the preview audience we were part of.