Having detailed some of the history that inspired my last film of 2016 in this article on Caught By The River, I have very little else to say in regards to The Attempt. It’s a mixture of essay film and drama, combining a stark moment in the life of the poet, Edward Thomas, with the tragic hindsight that he was not afforded. I wanted to respond to the text that tells of his own suicide attempt, The Attempt from 1911, because it details such a refreshing honesty about mental health, the rural landscape and how its indifference can be both a curse and a blessing. It’s far from more typical trysts with nature and its the evangelical healing powers found in literature; landscape and wildlife’s indifference has arguably far more to do with its ability to heal than some simplistic aesthetic osmosis that drains all ill will from the men and women who walk upon its pathways. Thomas knew this, often, I believe, explaining how much pleasure he found in the natural world in his later World War One diaries; birds, plants and mammals getting on with things even when the landscape they live in is almost entirely obliterated.
I was lucky enough to have music from Daniel Thorne of the Immix Ensemble who provided a wonderfully melancholic refrain to open and close the film. We went back and forth with several ideas, my main desire being that the music needed to respond to the natural landscape as there was initially no intention of having any score whatsoever. I mentioned Mahler’s use of intervals in his first symphony using birdsong as influence, and Daniel has produced something beautiful along those thematic lines. I was also lucky enough to call upon Robert Macfarlane again to read Thomas’ The Path for the voiceover. I had initially wanted to use the recording made by Thomas’ wife, Helen, but very quickly ran into rights issues. I’m ever grateful to Robert for providing an equally stunning reading and filling in the gaps from when he quoted it in our Holloway film. I was initially struggling to cast Thomas for a while until I realised that Joel, who played the haunted young man in my ghost story, The Coastal Path, looked a lot like a younger version of the poet. Though Thomas was a good ten years older or so than Joel is now when the events of The Attempt actually took place, I think the temporal juxtaposition of having a younger man go through the trauma is oddly fitting.
I was also unsure when to release this film. Initially I had thought about making it public on the 100th anniversary of Thomas’ death next year on the 9th of April but the thought of using that to promote a film made me feel deeply uncomfortable. Instead, I think Christmas time is far better suited, not simply because of its potential connotations with the Great War, but because of its themes of mental health and suicide. If ever there was a time of year when we needed to talk more about these things, then it is in December; a time when too often we assume people are OK and are lost in a maelstrom of commercialism and sentiment.
“…and I rose up, and knew that I was tired, and continued my journey” (1911).