On Thursday 15th September 2015, some 14 months ago, the Guardian posted a review of a film called London Fields. An adaptation of the Martin Amis story of the same name, the movie was press screened for the Toronto Film Festival, and it’d be fair to say that the response to it was not favourable. The Guardian awarded the film two stars from its drawer, bemoaning “the lack of any sense of real meaning.”
Other critics were broadly in line with the same view.
The production had started off promisingly. Directed by Matthew Cullen and working from a screenplay by Roberta Hanley, the film attracted a thoroughly impressive cast for its $8 million budget. Billy Bob Thornton and Amber Heard led the ensemble, that was fleshed out with the likes of Theo James, Hello To Jason Isaacs, Cara Delevingne and Johnny Depp.
Just to get to day one of shooting was no mean feat. London Fields was a project that had been languishing in development for well over a decade, at various times attracting the interest of David Cronenberg, Michael Winterbottom, and Hell Or High Water helmer David Mackenzie. But in September 2013, it was Cullen, making his feature directorial debut, who finally got things moving. Filming was then completed the following month, and into the edit suite Cullen went.
It’s common practice that, ahead of a film festival, the films concerned are screened for critics, so as to ensure requisite publicity for the paid-for showings that follow. But in the case of London Fields, it was just the early critics’ screening that went ahead. The film was abruptly pulled very late in the day from the Toronto Film Festival schedule in the middle of September 2015 (this was the year that Room took top prize), just one day before its public premiere. And the reason? Legal problems.
As the festival organizers announced, “we have recently learned of a legal matter that has arisen between the director and the producers of the film London Fields.” The statement added that “with uncertainty surrounding the creative vision of the version of the film scheduled to be screened on Sept. 18, we feel it is only appropriate that we remove this film from the festival lineup. We are hopeful that this matter will be resolved positively, and that audiences will have the opportunity to see the film.”
Over a year later, there’s still no sign of the movie.
The heart of the matter was quickly revealed, and it was to do with a lawsuit that Matthew Cullen had filed against the producers of London Fields. In it, he argued that they “secretly prepared their own version of the film without consulting with Cullen.” That they were allegedly using Cullen’s name on a version of the film he didn’t support.
“In creating their own version of the film, Defendants have interjected scenes and footage that are highly offensive and neither appear in the script nor are a part of the film that Cullen was asked to direct,” the suit continued. Amongst one of the areas of contention was a report suggesting that imagery from the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 had been added to the film. Furthermore, the New York Times at the time the story broke suggested that some of the cast had also lodged objections with producers about the cut of the movie that had been put together.
The producers quickly denied the claims of Cullen in his lawsuit and countersued, alleging that he’d gone $5.4 million over his allotted budget, and that when they had to pull the film, it lost its distributor.
It’s a legal battle that shows little sign of abating. The latest twist came just a week ago, when Amber Heard found herself on the receiving end of a $10 million lawsuit from production company Nicola Six Limited. The suit alleges breach of contract, of confidentially, of conspiring with Cullen, and of being party to encouraging the Toronto International Film Festival to pull the film from its schedule. The phrase “tortious misconduct” pops up, too. We looked ‘tortious’ up, it means ‘of the nature of or pertaining to a tort’. Which helps.
The latest lawsuit can be found here. It notes too the collapse of the marriage between Heard and Depp, that’s been widely played out in the press.
What’s more, said suit also makes clear that last year’s legal mess still isn’t resolved. That the producers’ complaint against Matthew Cullen is still “pending.” One other tidbit from the document, too. The director’s cut of London Fields, it alleges, was rejected from the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014. It was the new producers’ cut that got accepted for 2015.
What’s clear here is that, for better or worse, there is actually a finished film, and given the animosity between director and producers, it’s likely to be the cut put together by the latter. Furthermore, there is a distribution deal in place for London Fields, with Lionsgate reported to have picked up the worldwide rights to the picture. It can’t be a bad investment, either. An $8 million movie with a starry cast should, in theory, see some sort of return, not least given the text it’s based on.
The problem is, of course, that the ongoing and no doubt costly legal battles are preventing the movie from seeing the inside of a cinema near any of us. And as each day passes, the only things you can really read about the film itself online are the fairly savage reviews, and the story of the battle going on behind the scenes.
Even if everything was resolved tomorrow – which is hardly likely – Lionsgate would still need to put distribution wheels into motion, and it’d be tricky to foresee the picture getting a release until the back end of next year at the earliest. That’d be a good four years since filming wrapped, and two years after the first wave of reviews hit.
The cases continue, and while they do, London Fields remains locked up in a very secure, probably digital, vault…