The year is 1348. Medieval England has just been struck by a terrifying plague. The fate of a young sculptor and his wife will be decided today. With a brutal moneylender breathing down their necks and The Black Death wrecking havoc will they be able to escape doom?
With 100% of the dialogue spoken in rap and poetic verse, The Quickener is an unusual period drama.
Three years ago, Joel Wilson, the writer and director of this film, began raising the money needed to create this work – you can read here about his efforts and why he wanted to do this project – which is a combination of Hip-Hop Lyricism and Medieval Drama. After showing the 30-minute movie at film festivals throughout the United Kingdom, The Quickener has now been released on Vimeo.
Shot on location in Mercia, England, the film stars several talented rap performers. Justice Hotep, who plays Tipharah, is best known for being in Penny Woolcock’s hip hop musical 1Day. She is also the first female champion of the international rap freestyle competition End Of The Weak. Co-starring is Maxwell Golden as Osbert. Maxwell can also be found touring around the UK with his one-man hip-hop drama Countryboy’s Struggle and with Rob Broderick’s Abandoman show. Veteran actor Nigel Forde, who takes on the role of the Dean, has an extensive career on the stage and was also the host of the BBC radio programme Bookshelf.
As one reviewer notes, “It was beautifully shot throughout, with the feel of a superior BBC drama, the plot contained a healthy mixture of logic and mystery, and the script was at times mesmeric in its poetry while clear enough to make sure the audience knew what was going on.”
How has the process been over the last three years to get this movie from conception to a finished film?
Painful and tiring. Honestly each phase has felt very different. The pre-production which I steered included finding that rather small group of people with money and who dug the idea of medieval rap. We raised over $25,000. That was tough, but assembling the team was also long-winded with some major triumphs and frustrations. Some of rehearsals were really enjoyable and seeing the relationship develop between the whispering villain and his assistant was incredibly satisfying.
We shot most of the film in April 2012 but shot extra footage almost a year later. Shooting in and around actual medieval buildings like the Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick was so thoroughly exciting and we ended up shooting a scene on the site of a little town that got wiped out by the Black Death. My friend Will drove all the way from Germany with lutes he’d made by hand for the alehouse scene. The shoot itself was riddled with highlights.
The post-production took 18 months (off-and-on around my day job) and I wish I’d been able to involve more people with fresh eyes and energy during this phase. I spent a long time in the edit, many hours creating sound effects and rerecording some of the dialogue. I’m very grateful for Pete Yelding’s awesome score and my friend George’s end title sequence. Those were some of the highlights from the post-production stage. The film premiered in Birmingham, England. After a year of mainly unsuccessful attempts to get the film into festivals, we’re at perhaps the most important moment now: making the film easy to watch online.
Did the story of The Quickener change from how you first envisioned it to what we see on the film today?
Well, my hope at first was for the main cast members (who are all talented writers, rappers or poets) to write their scenes together with me, but it was a tall order. To get people even half way into the medieval mindset takes time and getting the style and flow of the dialogue was painstaking. Most of the film was written by myself and Tom Grant who plays Quinn, so he heavily influenced the tone of certain scenes.
I think the relationship between Osbert and Tipharah has a different flavor than what I started out with and that’s quite a central part of the story.
A couple scenes turned out exactly how I saw them in my head, for example the ‘rehearsing the speech’ scene near the start. One significant change occurred when I was looking at a number of character sketches my friend Ross Spencer had done for film promo postcards – next to one of the malicious characters he had written a list of attributes including ‘loyal’. Instead of telling Ross, ‘You’ve got that wrong, that guy wouldn’t be loyal’ I thought ‘Hey, what if he is loyal?’ It was serendipity.
So, yes, the story did grow and was refined many times in every phase. When I showed my wife Danielle the first edit of the film she did suggest that it needed a whole other particular scene and myself and the other producers agreed with her, so we got some of the cast and crew back together and shot it.