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Boyd, Don (1948-)

Producer, Director, Writer

Main image of Boyd, Don (1948-)

Described by Alexander Walker as "a one-man film industry" Don Boyd has significantly influenced the face of British film since his first feature in the mid-1970s. Moving from his initial role of director; his 'art form', Boyd successfully built his own production company; a bastion for young British talent during the arid climate of '70s British cinema. With a prolific production resumé during the late '70s and '80s, the '90s saw a return to directorial work in film as well as some surprising television projects.

Born in Nairn, Scotland in 1948, Boyd enrolled himself in the London Film School against his parents' wishes. With an enthusiasm and drive some saw as arrogance, he wrote, directed and produced his first feature at the age of 26, jobbing on commercials, documentaries and shorts during the five year production.

Loosely autobiographical, Intimate Reflections (1975) won some critical praise but little commercial success. His second directorial feature, East of Elephant Rock (1976), assumed a more straightforward narrative structure, drawing on Boyd's childhood colonial roots, in what he saw as an "attempt to be melodramatic". However, his innocent, unacknowledged debt to a similar film, William Wyler's The Letter (US, 1940), led to scathing reviews. Boyd's "biggest gamble" came in 1979. He invested in a series of six features for Boyd's Company, which included Derek Jarman's The Tempest (1979), Hussy (d. Matthew Chapman, 1979), and Scum (d. Alan Clarke, 1979), the most successful of the collection. The early '80s saw a temporary move to America, where he produced Honky Tonk Freeway (1981), directed by John Schlesinger.

Criticised for its $24 million budget, Honky Tonk Freeway was largely unsuccessful, but it taught Boyd a lot about the American movie scene. He returned to British production with his usual zest and enthusiasm, supporting a series of modest-budget features that continued to favour young, innovative filmmakers, and would also appeal to an international audience. The most notable of this collection were An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (d. Chris Petit, 1981), and Scrubbers (d. Mai Zetterling, 1982), a less successful Borstal partner-piece to Scum.

A temporary break in Boyd's career followed the mid-production collapse of Gossip in 1982. However, his return was marked by an eclectic mix of releases, notably Captive (d. Paul Mayersberg, 1985), Aria (1987, an operatic collaboration with ten directors including Jean-Luc Godard and Derek Jarman), The Last of England (1987) and War Requiem (1989), both directed by Jarman.

The 1990s saw Boyd combine his commitment to film with some television projects, directing a series of Ruby Wax shows between 1995-1997. However, Boyd continued directing and producing features with a rigour that has become his trademark. He directed Twenty-One (1991), with Patsy Kensit, as well as Kleptomania (1993) and Lucia (1998), and produced The Girl with Brains in her Feet (d. Roberto Bangura, 1997) and Crossmaheart (d. Henry Herbert, 1998). His most recent directorial project, My Kingdom (2001) transposes Shakespeare's King Lear to modern day Liverpool.

Delighting in his successes, learning from his failures, Boyd likes to see himself as 'a director-orientated audience-conscious film-marketing editor', unquestionably committed to indigenous British cinema.

Walker, Alexander. National Heroes: British Cinema in the 70s and 80s. (Harrap, 1985).
Cinema, (July 1982, p57)
Cinema TV Today, (4 Jan 1975, p9)
Film Directions, (V4 n14, 1981, p6-7)
NFT Audio interviews, (19 August 1982 and 20 March 1988)
NFT Programmes (August 1982, p10-13)
Screen International, (1976-1987)

Rebeckah Clarke

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Last of England, The (1987)Last of England, The (1987)

Derek Jarman's darkly poetic vision of a nightmare England

Thumbnail image of Scrubbers (1982)Scrubbers (1982)

A female answer to Scum (by the same author), set in a women's borstal

Thumbnail image of Unsuitable Job for a Woman, An (1981)Unsuitable Job for a Woman, An (1981)

Imaginative, underrated adaptation of the P.D.James detective thriller

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