Stuart BlackPeter Mullan Makes Christmas Odyssey In New Film Hector
There’s a scene at the end of new film Hector where a Christmas dinner in a homeless shelter erupts into a mass food fight. The chaos neatly sums up the complexity of the characters involved: their frustrations, their self-destructiveness but also their sense of fun. The film itself moves between these ideas as it depicts with impressive clarity what life is like for those who may have fallen down the cracks yet refuse to give up. Hector stars the peerless Peter Mullan at his best and features strong support from a cast that includes Gina McKee, Natalie Gavin, Stephen Tompkinson and Keith Allen.
“I didn’t want to make a film that was just misery tourism,” says director Jake Gavin. “My experience of life is that people in extreme circumstances still see humour. Humour is an essential quality of humanity and I wanted to reflect that by balancing the difficulties of the characters situations with their personalities.”
Hector’s story is an epic Yuletide odyssey as he makes his way down from Scotland to London on foot to celebrate Christmas in a shelter, just as he's done for the last few years. He is homeless, but as Gavin says, this does not define his character — it is merely a feature of his life. Hector is more of an itinerant thinker who wanders the motorways as he reviews the parts of his history that don’t make sense and tries to come to terms with how things have ended up. There is a lot to untangle, but also life still to be led as he comes across similar souls on his journey.
“I see this as a 90-minute portrait of a man,” Gavin explains, who came to this, his first feature, having been a photographer of both portraits and landscapes. This is evident on screen throughout in the bleakly beautiful shots of the Scottish hills and highways, and also in the shots of Mullan, thickly bearded, furrow-browed and clad in orange high-vis gear.
Gavin has also been a war photographer in trouble spots like Sri Lanka and Gaza so he is used to difficult conditions, but the shoot for Hector sounds similarly challenging. “For the first half we were based in Glasgow and Liverpool and various points in between. We spent several days with the entire crew in a service station near the Scots Borders in the middle of a brutal Scottish winter. The final shot of film was taken in a 60mph blizzard with the camera on a crane wobbling around, which meant we had to come back to do it again. After that, coming to London, where we were based in one location and I was sleeping in my own bed, was much easier.”
The London scenes were shot in a complex near Borehamwood that’s also used sometimes for EastEnders. And that shift from the wide open landscapes to the lively interiors really helps emphasise the sense of finding a shelter.
“In the montage where Hector first arrives in London, we tried to capture the size and busy-ness of the city, so we have shots of Regent Street with the Christmas lights and Camden. Then it’s the intimacy of the scenes inside the shelter. Family is a central theme to whole story — on the one hand Hector's adopted family in the shelter and then also his real family who appear towards the end of film — so the story progresses from the loneliness of life on the road to the warmth and embrace of his real and adopted family.”
Gavin researched the film by working in London shelters over Christmas and indeed met a man there who lived on the road and became the basis for Hector’s character in the film. But despite this Gavin is reluctant to label the work an issues film.
“I’m not an expert on that world and not really qualified to comment but yes, homelessness is clearly a real problem and I think it’s probably getting worse. I’m sure there’s plenty we could all be doing and I would encourage people to volunteer.”
Hector is in selected cinemas from Friday 11 December.