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Bird, Antonia (1959-2013)

Producer, Director

Main image of Bird, Antonia (1959-2013)

Antonia Bird began her career at the Royal Court Theatre before moving to television in the mid 1980s, directing episodes of EastEnders (BBC, 1985-86) and Casualty (BBC, 1986-87)and drama serials like Thin Air (1988), about the investigations of a female radio reporter, and The Men's Room (BBC, 1991), a five-part adaptation of the novel by Ann Oakley. Safe (1993), a realist drama about homeless teenagers made for BBC2's Screenplay series, saw her working in the social-issue tradition pioneered by Ken Loach, whose influence she has acknowledged. Safe won her a Best First Feature award at the Edinburgh International Television Festival and a BAFTA award for Best Single Drama.

Priest (1994), made for the BBC's Screen Two series, received a cinema release before its television transmission and again saw Bird embracing social-issue drama. Written by Jimmy McGovern, Priest was a critique of the Catholic church, featuring a gay priest caught in a moral dilemma on hearing a confession of child abuse, which the sanctity of the confessional won't allow him to reveal, and persecuted by his congregation when his homosexuality is exposed.

Bird's move to Hollywood to make Mad Love (1995) seemed like a bid for fame and fortune, yet the story of a teenage couple on the run was similar in theme to that of Safe, although the treatment of it was inevitably glamourised. Her next project, Face (1997), was a British heist movie scripted by Ronan Bennett and starring Robert Carlyle as a former left-wing activist who, disillusioned with attempts to change the world through social protest, turns to crime. The amalgam of genre thriller and social issue movie was a little uncomfortable, but the heist narrative was skilfully handled, resulting in an entertaining gangster/social-realist hybrid.

Another genre switch came with Bird's next film, Ravenous (1999), inherited from Milcho Manchevski when the director was fired. Robert Carlyle had a starring role in the film and persuaded Bird to take over this 'cannibal western', proving her ability to handle material far removed from social realism. Nevertheless, she returned to television and social issues for Care (2000), a fictionalised but painstakingly researched account of sexual abuse in children's homes, made in collaboration with veteran BBC drama producer Ruth Caleb. Care won a BAFTA award for Best Single Drama and Bird began work on Rehab, a TV drama about the rehabilitation of drug users, again with Ruth Caleb, as a co-production between the BBC and 4Way Pictures, a company formed by Bird with Robert Carlyle, Mark Cousins and Irvine Welsh.

Antonia Bird has now confirmed her standing as one of Britain's leading women directors, with an eclectic track record and a speciality in realist issue-based drama.

Ciecko, Anne T, 'Sex, God, Television, Realism, and the British Women Filmmakers Beeban Kidron and Antonia Bird', Journal of Film and Video, Spring 1999, pp. 22-41.
McCabe, Bob, 'East End Heat', Sight and Sound, Oct. 1997, pp. 10-12.

Lez Cooke, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Face (1997)Face (1997)

Robert Carlyle stars in a gritty east London thriller with political overtones

Thumbnail image of Priest (1994)Priest (1994)

Powerful drama about a Catholic priest tortured by secrets

Thumbnail image of EastEnders (1985- )EastEnders (1985- )

The BBC's most successful soap - a serious rival to Coronation Street

Thumbnail image of Faith (2005)Faith (2005)

Powerful drama exploring the impact of the 1980s miners strike on two families

Thumbnail image of Safe (1993)Safe (1993)

Hard-hitting drama about homeless Londoners, directed by Antonia Bird

Thumbnail image of Spooks (2002-2011)Spooks (2002-2011)

High octane thriller set inside the world of MI5

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Women and FilmWomen and Film

Women on both sides of the camera

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