Parties, drugs, casual sex, coffee shops, break-ups, hook ups, more parties, more drugs… the carousel of London’s opulent, elegantly wasted twenty-somethings spins woozily round in Alexandra McGuinness’s debut feature Lotus Eaters. Taking its name from Greek mythology’s blissfully narcotized, apathetic denizens, this bunch of self-absorbed, self-deluded not-so-bright young things flitting around interloper/voyeur/victim Alice (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) are hard to love; but then, that’s hardly the point. McGuinness and co-writer Brendan Grant are more interested in the group dynamics and rituals of a milieu reminiscent of Dionysian disciples, Waugh-torn 1930s decadence or modern-day Sloane Rangers, the film’s cool monochrome palette clearly aiming for a certain timelessness.
McGuinness has fashioned a soufflé-like satire whose comic buoyancy is perhaps weighed down by eruptions of sudden tragedy. That said, there’s pleasure enough in imbibing of the designer fashions, chic London locations (with diversions to Glastonbury and Nice) and achingly hip soundtrack, featuring contributions by co-star and rising troubadour Johnny Flynn. Starring alongside Flynn and Campbell-Hughes is rising British actor, artist and filmmaker Benn Northover. He and McGuinness reconvened at a special Lotus Eaters London screening to discuss making the film – starting with a bizarre chance street encounter years before they worked together…
Alexandra McGuinness: I’d actually interviewed Ben on the street three or four years before. I was filming for a film school project where I had to stop people and ask them what was in their bag.
Benn Northover: But we only remembered later. We were in the pub after filming and Alexandra was playing with these trinkets on my bag and she said, “I recognize these.” And it brought back this memory - she’d stopped me in the street. I’d just broken up with somebody and was really moody.
Alexandra McGuinness: He said, “I’m an actor going to an audition”. And he had all this great stuff in his bag: “Patti Smith gave me this; I have this charm because I’m scared of flying…”
Benn Northover: [holding it up] It’s now on my necklace! The interesting thing for me about this film is that there was such a big sense of trust in your vision. The fact that you were an actress before I could really feel in your notes.
Alexandra McGuinness: My acting career was very brief and I was terrible. I think it’s useful as a director to have that experience.
Benn Northover: I started at film school as a director, but the curiosity about what happened with actors, I wanted to understand how to nurture that. So then I went to Stella Adler [Studio of Acting] in New York. I was supposed to be there just to experience it but then I fell into it and really enjoyed it.
Alexandra McGuinness: I did hundreds of auditions and probably learned a lot more through that than being on set.
Benn Northover: There was a spontaneity you kept in the finished film, the narrative structure never felt that predictable.
Alexandra McGuinness: The script really came from notebooks, lots of different characters and I thought I’ll put them into one movie: people who are promiscuous, bad friends, making choices and not really thinking them through. Initially when we screened it, people were like, ‘Oh these are terrible people…’
Benn Northover: I remember at Tribeca, there were some really violent reactions. But I love how it’s about not being honest with oneself and the price you pay for that. That really touched me.
Alexandra McGuinness: It’s probably good that this film is coming out now because now that a series like Girls has come out and been embraced, and that’s about entitled young girls and people can laugh at that.
Lotus Eaters is available on Curzon On Demand. It opens in New York on April 5th and in Los Angeles on April 12th.