PORT TALBOT was transformed last night into a place of magic and myths when Hollywood stars turned out for the gala world premiere of the film The Gospel Of Us, the feature film of last year’s live production The Passion which starred award-winning local actor Michael Sheen.
Not only was the unlikely setting of the town’s Apollo cinema transformed into a glamorous red-carpet affair, complete with paparazzi photographers and film stars Michael Sheen and his Canadian girlfriend Rachel McAdams, but the film also showed a Port Talbot where anything was possible and magic was not far away.
Around a thousand people had secured tickets for the event, which filled all six screens at the cinema. Tickets for the first screen sold out within hours, prompting Apollo Cinemas to make the rest of the venue available for the occasion.
Michael Sheen joined director Dave McKean to give a personal introduction to each of the six screenings.
The Baglan-raised star, whose parents still live in the town, was warmly welcomed, and said: “A red carpet premiere in Port Talbot – how exciting is that?”
He talked about how The Passion had inspired many ‘gospels’, including a book by scriptwriter Owen Sheers and thousands of photographs, videos, stories and works of art by local people, and said the film was another gospel from last year’s epic live production.
Director Dave McKean apologised for having to cut out so many local people from the film. “I had the horrible realisation this week that you would probably all be coming here to see yourselves, but I’m afraid most of you have ended up on the cutting room floor because I had to cut 12 hours down to two.”
The 118-minute film carved a coherent narrative from the many official and unofficial scenes of The Passion, and included footage that was shot away from the public performance including inside the prison cell where Sheen slept for one night of the performance.
The film also cut video and mobile phone footage shot by members of the public and amateurs together with the hours of video captured by McKean’s own camera crews.
McKean, who is well known for his collaboration with Neil Gaiman on the Sandman graphic novel series, has drawn heavily on this background, adding visual effects, animation and time-lapse footage to create a surreal collage effect that emphasised The Passion’s magical and spiritual elements.
The overall effect was to cast Port Talbot as a town where anything might happen, where magic is possible and where something truly extraordinary has taken place.
It is almost a testament to the genuinely extraordinary production that took place in Port Talbot last year.
The verdict from much of the audience last night was positive with some saying they couldn’t wait to see it again, although many noted it was simply “another gospel” that could perhaps never have managed to convey the personal experiences of so many performers and audience members.
Julianne Grey performed in The Passion last year and said: “Being a part of such a huge theatrical experience could never be transported across to the big screen, but I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. The atmosphere of being in The Passion could never come across in a film, though.”
Joe Taffurelli, 46, from Cwmavan said the film was “brilliant, excellent, it was a really different adaptation but it’s brought back so many memories. I thought the ending was done really well.”
Mary Thomas, 75 and her husband Don Thomas, 76, both from Frederick Street in Port Talbot were impressed. “It was very good, very very unusual and totally different from anything else I’ve ever seen,” said Mary.
“It showed the town, warts and all,” added Don.
Mayor Harry Bebell added that it would be good for tourism to the town. “Port Talbot is not a pretty town, it’s an industrial town, but this film has showed it in a very good light,” he said.
Michael Sheen gave a stellar performance, and the performances of several of the other cast members also came over very well under the close scrutiny of film – including John the Baptist figure Nigel Barrett, mother character Di Botcher, and the legion twins, Matthew Aubrey and John-Paul Macleod. But Port Talbot was undoubtedly the film’s star.
“The film showed Port Talbot to be a magical place,” I said to director Dave McKean after the showing.
“It is a magical place,” he grinned.