Great interview with David Hare on Front Row today.
An MP3 grab here might be more permanent:
Mark Lawson The playwright David Hare written scripts of stage including Plenty and most recently The Power of Yes, television such as Licking Hitler and movies The Hours and The Reader. But he has so far only been represented on radio by adaptations of his theatre pieces.
This weekend though Radio 4 broadcasts a previously unperformed play which grew out of an abandoned movie script. Murder in Samarkand is based on the memoirs of Craig Murray, who was removed in 2004 as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan after publicly protesting that the British and American governments were using intelligence procured through torturing prisoners.
The majority of movie scripts fail to get made but for different reasons. So why had this script finished up as a radio play?
David Hare I wrote it for Michael Winterbottom and he and I did not see eye to eye. He when he read the book thought that it was a farce and he imagined it with a comedian like Steve Coogan. I saw it as rather more serious so we were artistically at odds.
But also I don’t think people outside the film industry understand the degree to which drama really is disappearing from the English-speaking cinema. It’s been a sort of perfect storm that at the exact moment the studios lost their faith in what you might call human being based drama, at that exact moment the recession came along and now the success of Avatar is just confirming them in their judgement that that kind of film is finished.
I don’t think anyone yet knows, there’ll be a lagging couple of years before you realise, that there aren’t any human beings on the screen in your local Odeon anymore.
Mark Lawson Even if you had agreed with Michael Winterbottom, it would have been a hard movie to get funding for, wouldn’t it, I expect because of the theme of it. It explicitly attacks the British and American governments over torture in particular; in effect over their whole foreign policy. So it might have been hard to attract finance.
David Hare I don’t know. I mean it is a very funny story. It is about this man Craig Murray who is our Ambassador in Uzbekistan, and who is by his own admission a somewhat flawed character, meaning his private life was completely chaotic, his way of conducting business was extremely unusual, he wasn’t your representative Ambassador.
He was also a great high flyer: he didn’t go into Uzbekistan, and he didn’t go into the effects of the War on Terror, intending to come apart from his government or the Foreign Office. He simply regards himself as a classic liberal, and his government has changed beyond recognition.
Mark Lawson In the narration in the radio play he says lets get this out of the way, usual rules, its basically true but some names have been changed, but it is essentially it is based on his memoir.
David Hare It is, and the thing I did was to take out any accusation he makes in the memoir which can’t be corroborated. I only make those allegations which we know to be true and which are corroborated by other people.
That’s to say Craig Murray is the person who drew Foreign Office attention to the fact that they were receiving information which had been basically gained in the Tashkent torture chambers. The Foreign Office had a view of complicity which was that they said that, if we aren’t the people who actually do the torturing, there is no moral obligation on us to ask where did this information come from.
So they knew bloody well that they were getting information from torture. You can then have a legal argument about whether, by receiving that information, you are or are not complicit. But I am keeping to what is known, and it is a shocking enough story without any allegations which can’t be proven.
Mark Lawson One of the fascinating things about the play is that he is sleazy, he is arrogant; and in Hollywood whistleblowers ten to be quite saintly people.
David Hare That’s right. You know I think that’s probably why Michael Winterbottom wanted to do it as a farce, because he said let’s get somebody who is sort of nakedly ridiculous to play this part.
I thought that was the wrong way to go and I thought that a great actor – and I feel that David Tennant is a great actor – could give you both things. In other words he could give you the moral seriousness of the character, but he could also give you the wild side which undoubtedly is part of Craig.
Mark Lawson To what extent have you changed it from the screenplay, because there is a lot of narration in this which in your film scripts you have quite often shied away from.
David Hare Oh definitely. One of the things I did was to talk to a lot of people around the story, and one of them was his wife Fiona, and so I’ve included a lot of what Fiona told me which is not in the book, which was the point of view of somebody who was basically sympathetic to what Craig wanted to do, which was to alert the Foreign Secretay to the fact that he might be breaking international law, but who thought he was tactically very stupid and exhibitionist in the way he went about it.
That said, what I most admire about Craig is that he has been willing to pay the price for his principles. He adored being a diplomat and he will never go back to his jon in the Foreign Office and he really has, like many whistleblowers, really paid the price.
Mark Lawson To what extent did you consult him about what you were doing?
David Hare Not very much. I read an earlier draft of the book, which was even wilder and more scabrous. It was hilarious, I mean it was Rabelaisian, I mean it was not like any diplomatic memoir. But having said that I have written something closer to my own version of events. I went to Tashkent. I interviewed people who worked for him: it is strongly adapted.
Mark Lawson It is wild stuff as you suggest. At one pint he marries a pole dancer who has been working as an interpreter for him, and people think he has made this up but that did really happen.
David Hare Yes, and Nadira is now living happily, she has a child, she lives with Craig, and his life is now with his Uzbek girlfriend.
Mark Lawson The BBC is known to be very nervous about dramatisations of living people and there have been many problems over this over they years. There are certain rules. You are supposed to have permission I think if you dramatise a living person. Did any of this affect you?
David Hare Not in the slightest. I think BBC Radio is just exemplary; I mean it reminds me of what BBC Television used to be like in the good days. It’s moved at the speed of light. Obviously the subject of British complicity in torture is hotly topical at the moment and Wow! It’s going out a week after the principle evidence in the Chilcot inquiry. And I can’t think of any medium which moves as fast as radio can do.
Mark Lawson It has the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and actually he’s dramatised in this. There were no BBC nerves over that?
David Hare I dont detect any nerves at all from the BBC. I have been incredibly cooperative myself. In other words, my days in which I used to fight the BBC are long over.
Mark Lawson You wrote a famous essay on this issue. You used actually to trade expletives in pubs for your television plays.
David Hare Well, television used to be a bartering job where you would sit down and say I’ll have two B words for an S word, and there would simply be a trading session in the pub. But those days are gone, I think.
Mark Lawson Finally there have been cases of radio plays becoming movies. I think A Man For All Seasons was originally a radio play and one of Lee Hall’s also became a movie. You never know, you might get an offer to make a move of this now.
David Hare Yeah, I’ve had three offers already to make it a stage play since I wrote it as a radio play, but I am just going to wait and see how people like it on Saturday.
Mark Lawson David Hare. Muder in Samarkand is on Saturday at 2.30pm here on BBC Radio 4.
It is important for me that David makes the point so strongly that he has corroborated the story. It rather puts the lies of Jack Straw, David Miliband and Kim Howells in perspective, doesn’t it?
David Hare and David Tennant at the recording of Murder in Samarkand.