I had stood on an unfamiliar street corner, awaiting their arrival. The city, although my home for two months, was still a stranger to me. We'd begun coalescing with no real understanding of one another, and indeed it turned out this street corner was one only a couple of hundred yards from where I'd been stood the previous night, totally unaware of what was ahead of me.
Soon I'd be greeted by a tall and striking man with a candour and integrity far beyond his years. Sassoon led me into the club and I was welcomed into the world as an honorary member for the day. Full of admiration for the work, and articulating every point with eloquence, he led me to a quiet corner of the club to discuss the potential of the piece. Soon we'd meet the eccentric and daring Robert Graves, and begin plotting how we'd put our artistic mark on the landscape of this volatile and unpredictable world.
Of course, this was no hallucination, but for a moment I felt a little like Wilfred as I talked about the script for The Burying Party with two of the main stars of the piece, playing Sassoon and Graves respectively. And it's London where we'd met, as opposed to Edinburgh.
I'd never met S before, but had visited his work in order to make a casting decision (that I'm currently not allowed to announce out of respect and contractual duties). The meeting confirmed everything I'd hoped. Will is our Graves, and looks every bit the part. A poet himself, and a very good one at that, he possesses the natural electricity and command of language needed. I handed him my copy of Goodbye To All That, (Graves' autobiography and essentially his eulogy to the era in question). Despite my aversion to astrology, it's difficult not to remark that the stars seem to be aligning.
The nature of The Burying Party is that it not only marks a significant centennial, but it also reflects the nature of today's volatility. I recently read Jeremy Cliffe's powerful piece Inside Europe in the New Statesman. Briefly, it describes the meeting of 25th March summit, where EU leaders came together to discuss the future beyond Brexit at the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome. A 60 year anniversary, and one that saw students, police officers and anti-EU protestors clashing in the streets. This scene is sadly an unremarkable one at the present time, as the political landscape becomes a little like Middle Earth. Very recently, far-right parties became frontrunners across Europe. A cohort of reactionary leaders, namely Geerts, Le Pen and Hofer, were poised to drag Europe back into the chaos of World War nationalism and fascism due to the rise of pluto-populism and the antics of an orange monster across the pond.
However, there is a resistance. There are people and ideas that swoop under the radar of the press and the pollsters. Only last month, the UK's second monumental political shake up within a year took place. Since 1979, neoliberalism and its austerity-based denominations have taken hold of power. Yet somehow, 38 years later, the people refused to hand a majority to the Tory government, giving a revitalised and crucially anti-austerity party a foothold in the House of Parliament, the same place Sassoon was reprimanded for his infamous antiwar speech.
'Time is a flat circle' springs to mind from Rust Cohle of True Detective. But Cliffe speaks of the "widening gyre" in Yeats' poem The Second Coming: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold". The gyre spirals in a cone-shape, the pattern rises to meet its apex before following the same pattern back down, only inwards. We have been through this before, and France, Austria and the Netherlands managed to reject the far-right. Germany looks to be doing the same. The beast is being batted off. Common sense is starting to creep back in.
Whatever your politics, Corbyn was right when he spoke of 'in every child there is a poem'. And in Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, they had poems that challenged the apocalyptic landscape of their time. Lines such as 'Dulce Et Decorum Est' and 'Red lips are not so red as the stained stones kissed by the English dead.' will live on to stand the test of time. With our film we intend to depict the nature of the 'widening gyre', and illustrate the absolute necessity of artists and progressives to cast light in times of darkness.
I left the meeting with S and Will, and began the journey toward Stratford. I bid them both a fond farewell, organising our next steps toward production. As I walked past through the balmy midsummer evening, past the parks and down the familiar streets toward home, I was thrilled to know a single script seems to have spurred many like-minded people at once, at a remarkable time of anniversary and in a remarkable year of the world's history.
Once a stranger, I now feel more like a citizen; it is the mark we make in our participation that makes our visit here worthwhile. I've started to come to a better understanding of Owen's own affirmation - in the enthusiasm and ideas of others he found a purpose to his work. To invoke Auden, I, the stranger, had somehow bought right to take the shuddering city in my arms.
Wilfred Owen warned us, but partnered with his life, the life of his contemporaries, his unique vision and indelible literary mark, he has once again galvanised a collection of artists to create their own variation on a timeless and essential message.
Here's to that Wilfred Owen film