Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Learning from Locke

Monday night I went to the movies. I don’t do this often – what with work, Welsh classes, church, Parish Council, Google Hangouts, catching up with mum, interstate Skype chats, and a parade of family anniversaries, I don’t have time.

This week was different. Andrew and I had planned to visit mum. She was out of flue quarantine (yes, this happens in aged care facilities) and we had set aside Monday evening. When she rang to say she wasn’t up to company, we found ourselves with free time on our hands. I proposed the movies. Unusual for me. I’m generally a stay-home-in-your-pyjamas kind of girl. But I’d been feeling tired and over-serious since getting back from overseas. I needed to escape and re-fuel. A movie would be perfect. But which one?

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Andrew said. ‘We’ll choose when we arrive.’

Standing in the half price Monday queue, we narrowed our choices down to two movies. Boyhood a hundred and sixty four minute long, coming of age story, filmed over the course of ten years. Or Locke a shorter, British drama starring Tom Hardy. I favoured Locke.

‘It’ll be risky,’ Andrew said. ‘It’s just a bloke sitting in his car.’

It didn’t sound promising. I had to admit. But it was a British film (whatever that means in the current context) and at only an hour and fifteen minutes in length, Locke was a significantly shorter risk, than Boyhood, which sounded like watching the grass grow.

We bought tickets for Locke. It opened with a character called Ivan Locke sitting in his car. It ended with the same character, Ivan Locke, sitting in the same car. In between were scenes in which Locke drove and talked on his car phone. That’s it. The whole film. Just Locke in his car. Talking. Weeping. Blowing his nose. Driving. Talking some more.

It was riveting.

I repeat, riveting, and, although it was supposed to be a break from work, I gained a number of valuable, writerly insights from the experience.


1) your voice doesn’t have to be perfect

Thirty seconds into the opening scene, I nudged Andrew.

‘Psst,’ I said, ‘he’s doing a Welsh accent.’

Note. I didn’t say the lead actor is Welsh. Hardy isn’t. But, in Locke, he had a damn good crack at a Welsh accent. Curiously, this wasn’t scripted. It was Hardy’s innovation. In Wales on line he had this to say about the decision:

“It’s just that, in my mind, the men that come from Wales have a certain gravitas and integrity…. There’s a durability and toughness to them, an inner strength that’s very calming – and the same goes for the Welsh accent…. There’s a softness and soothing quality to it which Ivan need to have. He had to sound like Richard Burton, like he could put out fires with his voice.”

The voice wasn’t perfect (Hardy is the first to admit this). At times, he sounded almost subcontinental. But the accent created an effect. For the duration of that journey, we were in the car with him.

2) good dialogue is everything

Apart from, Hardy’s acting and some evocative night filming of English motorways, dialogue made up the entire movie. We never saw the faces of the people Locke talked too. Only their names, as entered in his car phone directory. Yet these intricately arranged snippets of conversation revealed his values, his loves, his anger, his passions, his motivations and the crisis he was driving towards.

3) some things are beyond the artist’s control

There is a saying in writing circles: if there is a gun on the mantelpiece in the first scene of your story, it had better be in someone’s hand at the climax. Nothing is superfluous. Every detail communicates something. And right from the outset, I couldn’t help noticing, Locke had a helluva cold. He snuffled his way through phone conversations. I can’t tell you how many times he blew his nose. Yet, this seemed to have no direct bearing on the story. This puzzled me. Until I learned that filming took place over five nights with Hardy sitting in the car which was being driven down the motorway on the back of a flat bed truck. There was a degree of improvisation to the situation. The phone calls were coming live from a hotel room. And Hardy had a cold. Here’s how he described the situation to out.com:

“That’s always the way, isn’t it? You have to do something at the last minute and you get ill… I actually really did have a cold. That’s also why Ivan has the handkerchief in his sleeve. There’s nothing like trying to hold a sneeze in when you’re having a very important business conversation—but of course, no one can see you doing that. No one knows where you are when you’re on the phone…unless you’re in a bathroom and there’s an echo. Then someone knows. But I was trying to create that juxtaposition of reality. Here I am, trying to have this very important conversation, and someone’s asking, ‘Are you listening?’ I am listening, I’m just trying to stop snot from flying out of my face.”

Voice, dialogue, perfect timing, and improvistaion. Sound familiar? These are the elements of good writing. In Locke they came together for an hour and fifteen minutes of real, raw, powerfully-understated drama. The effect – not only energising, but inspiring and also, strangely comforting. I may still be an apprentice when it comes to voice and dialogue, but I’ve experienced the strange mix of adrenaline and lack of control that carries creativity forward. I’m also prone to developing colds at just the wrong moment. It may not be much. But it means I’m on the right track. For now that will be enough to go on with.








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  1. Not a film I’d ever get Mark to watch, but it sounds interesting. I’m glad you enjoyed it and got something out of it, Liz. Did Andrew enjoy it too?

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