Bookends: A man less ordinary

Peter Hoskin

1 January 2011

The joy – and danger – of these extended conversations with film-makers is that they will skew your critical faculties. So it is with Amy Raphael’s book Danny Boyle (Faber, £14.99). Until sifting through its pages, my opinion of the director’s work was, like many film fans, given to snobbishness: that he squandered the ferocious promise of Shallow Grave (1994) and Trainspotting (1996), sinking to such insipid depths as A Life Less Ordinary (1997) and The Beach (2000), before — even worse — winning Oscars galore for the mawkish Slumdog Millionaire (2008). Now I take a kinder view.
The man that emerges from this book is by turns candid, self-deprecating and generous. Boyle switches disarmingly from discussing his family (‘When I was growing up, I hated my dad, as one does; my son Gabriel, who is 20, is going through exactly the same thing with me now’) to genuflecting before other film directors (‘The shadow the Coen Brothers cast is colossal’). But, above all, he explains how he has tried to occupy a barren space in British cinema, producing movies that are restless and experimental, but which also appeal to main-stream audiences. At the very least, we can conclude that Boyle is neither complacent as an artist, nor as a showman.
 The book’s epilogue acts as a diary for the production of his latest film, 127 Hours. It is a smaller, sweatier number than Slumdog, but the director seems all the more enthusiastic for it. The final paragraph alights neatly on three words: ‘He likes shooting.’ And who can blame him for that?