“I get such a thrill from thinking about devastation. Sometimes I like to think that one day this will all be gone,” says Hackney-based filmmaker Ben Charles Edwards.
His latest film, Set The Thames on Fire, is the darkly comic story of Art and Sal, who live in a dream-like London of huge sparkling stars and shifting alleyways, full of danger and adventure. It stars Noel Fielding, Sally Phillips, and Michael Winder and Max Bennett as Art and Sal, respectively. The film is not just about the city but about friendship too, says Edwards.
“Cities come and go and walls fall. And do you know what? The first thing you’re going to think of is not your belongings – it’s the person that’s closest to you.”
The script, written with his friend Al Joshua, was partly based on their time living together in Shoreditch.
“The film is true to East London. They’re all familiar places – they’re just set in another world. A lot of the locations are in Hackney and Shoreditch,” says Edwards.
Living in a tall townhouse in Shoreditch, Edwards and Joshua used to sit on their flat roof overlooking the city. They would hold parties, have friends over and chat every night.
From this emerged the idea for the film of two boys living in East London, surrounded by friends and lurid East London characters.
“These characters never change,” says Edwards. “There is a blessing with never feeling comfortable or secure in a particular environment because you’re always going to be forced to move on or find something else to get some enjoyment from.”
It is this idea of feeling uncomfortable that is the key to understanding the film. “It’s a story of not fitting in in a dark world,” Edwards says.
The world of the film appears at once familiar and unfamiliar; Edwards took inspiration from the slums of the East End and fictional slums such as the Jago. It is in this world that Art and Sal find themselves, encountering characters such as the deranged Dickie – played by Fielding.
Edwards adds: ‘They’re just two guys who moved in together and discovered each other and how to live in a dark environment and a dark world – as London and any city can appear at times when you’re trying to live and make a living. Al and I never had any money at all, could never eat properly – they were dark times, and looking back it was friendship that got us through it. Set the Thames On Fire is a story about friendship and hope in a dark environment.’
Set The Thames On Fire is being produced by Sadie Frost’s production company Blonde to Black Pictures and will be released later this year.