When Did You Last See Your Father by Anand Tucker

First published in 1993, Blake Morrisons “When Did You Last See Your Father” is an extraordinary portrait of family life, and an honest and moving account of his fathers life and death. It became a best-seller, winning both the J R Ackerley Prize and the Esquire-Volvo-Waterstones Non-Fiction Book Award, and inspiring a whole genre of confessional memoirs.

Blake Morrison explains: I never imagined that I would write a book about my father but when he became ill, I was in such a state of shock, I found myself keeping diary entries as a way of dealing with it. As I wrote, I started to recover childhood memories, which proved to be therapeutic in coming to terms with my fathers
death. I showed the diary entries to somebody who thought they might interest people, and so something that was very private to begin with, eventually became a book.

The power of the story lies in its extreme candor, a characteristic which Blake acknowledges may not have existed had he not written the book when his father was dying. He explains: My normal censorship rules werent in place. I was so disorientated by what was happening, it all spilled out.

When producer Elizabeth Karlsen read the book, it completely captivated her: I thought it was absolutely wonderful, a beautiful book, and a universal story that would work very well on screen, says Elizabeth.

Unfortunately, she was to discover the book had already been optioned. I thought that was the end of the story, says Elizabeth. However, some time later, Elizabeth began to wonder what had happened to the book. With things that get under your skin, she says, you cant help but return to them. To her delight, she discovered that the option had lapsed, and together with veteran producer Stephen Woolley, snapped up the option on the spot for their company Number 9 Films.
Their first move was to ask David Nicholls, writer of Cold Feet, to write the screenplay. He had read the book when it was first published, some ten years before, and was gripped by its raw honesty. He had long since harbored a desire to adapt the book for the screen.

Says David: I found the book to be incredibly moving. It dealt with a subject that had seldom been dealt with before, with so much honesty, and frankness, and detail. Im in awe of Blakes ability to be that emotionally honest. He really spilled his guts in the book. Its what makes it so compelling.

The writer and the producers, however, were well aware of the difficulties of adapting this particular book into a script. Although it has a remarkable relationship at its center, the story is very impressionistic and episodic, and does not lend itself naturally to a narrative.

Explains David: The problem with adapting a memoir for the screen is that real life tends not to follow the ark of a film–a beginning, middle, and end. The biggest challenge has been staying true to the contents of the book whilst imposing the shape on it, and wheedling out details which will work well on screen.

David continues: In the film, were trying to replicate the sense you get of the process Blake goes through as he writes the memoir–at the beginning maddened by his fathers self-righteousness, by his pomposity, by him constantly hogging the limelight, towards a coming to terms with all of those qualities and finally finding peace with the memory of his father, and that in spite of his exasperating qualities, he was a compelling and attractive man.

Whats extremely moving about the book, and what I hope weve achieved in the adaptation,
is Blakes journey from resenting his father to embracing his memory, and that is a very powerful journey. Although its tragic that the father dies, and that Blake experiences such loss and such confusion in his grief, observes Elizabeth, it is also a real celebration of a life–and a relationship.

With a script in the works, the producers turned their attention to finding the right director for the project, and found they shared a common vision for the film with director Anand Tucker. It really moved me, and I wanted to do it. It was a simple as that, recalls Anand. It was one of those rare lightening strikes
moments. David had written a very beautiful script that was also funny, touching, and tender. Theres something very compelling about real life, and the way Blake was so honest about what happens to you when someones dying. It was essential to preserve that truthfulness, and hopefully it will allow an audience to experience their own emotions through the filter of the character, and move them without them feeling
exploited.

Says Elizabeth: We approached Anand to direct the film because we felt he was a perfect fit for the material. He showed with the brilliant Hilary and Jackie how capable he is of handling intimate, emotional narrative without making the story feel small or the images mundane. He is a real filmmaker, who can take a personal story and raise it to great visual and emotional heights.
Coming at the project with his own enthusiasm and perspective, Anand worked alongside David to shape the shooting script.

Says David: Anand embraced the material in a sensitive and poetic way. Blake was assured of Anands dedication to authenticity by his many probing questions. Blake remarks: I have a great
deal of respect for Anand Tucker as a director. He had questions about things not in the book because he wanted to get it right. I had to accept that a film and book are different creatures, and that the film has to work in a different way, but I trusted Anand from an early stage that he would find an equivalent form of
expressing both the humor and sadness. I knew that he would be attentive to the emotional power of the material. Whats specific to me and my family isnt that important, whats crucial is to convey the elemental things about relationships in a family, and Im absolutely sure the film will honor that.