Firth, Colin Firth.Colin Firth Career Timeline. Online since 1997. Updated
BBC FILM, filmed on location near Glasgow, spring 1999
WRITER: Donna Franceschild [Takin' Over The Asylum]
DIRECTOR: David Blair [The Lakes, Takin' Over The Asylum]
PRODUCER: Sue Austen.
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Barbara McKissack and Jane Tranter.
CAST: Colin Firth [Donovan Quick/Daniel Quinn], Katy Murphy [Lucy Pannick], David O'Hara [Clive], Paul Doonan [Jim], Liz Smith [Granny], David Brown [Sandy] and David Westhead [Mackie] et al.
STORYLINE: When the enigmatic and well-spoken Donovan Quick arrives at a small Scottish village and takes up residence with the Pannick family, things will never be the same again.
The Pannicks are like any other eccentric and dysfunctional family: Lucy Pannick drinks, her son Jim steals cars, her grandmother forgets to put on her clothes and her learning disabled brother, Sandy, runs model trains in his room all night. When the multi-national bus company, Windmill Transport, takes over the local trains it leaves Sandy with no means to get to his day centre.
To solve the problem Donovan starts up a one-bus company with Sandy to replace the lost service. Against all the odds, the fledgling Quick and Pannick buses becomes so successful that the voracious Windmill Transport decides to poach the route for itself. However, like his inspiration Don Quixote, Donovan Quick manages to thwart Windmill at their own game, galvanising the community and transforming forever the lives of Lucy, Sandy, Gran and Jim in the process.
Director David Blair: the film - superficially - is about a Don Quixote character set against the unlikely background of transport privatisation. Firth's character is in charge of axing bus services, but he gives the profits away to the needy, thus mirroring the hero of Cervantes' famous book. He's been sectioned in a mental hospital and what unfolds is that he is tortured by what he appears to have been doing in the past.
Colin Firth: "This is a unique script and I am looking forward to working with David Blair on the film." [BBC press released April 1999]. "My character defends the little man against the big corporation, but there are complications." [Daily Mail, March 1999]
From an interview with Colin, October 1999:
"We are about to embark on a great mission, Sandy. A great quest. To fight the mighty Windmill. And they will try to defeat us. Make no mistake about that, Sandy. And they won't care who they hurt. Because there are no people in their equations. Only 'customers'."
Firth is unwinding in a rather fancy Japanese restaurant following a hot afternoon in the central Glasgow studio. Director David Blair, who collaborated with [writer] Franceschild on her two previous hits, has been driving him and Brown hard in a scene where they return home defiantly singing "We Shall Not Be Moved" after a punishing day battling Windmill buses. When Blair finally says he's happy after numerous takes, Firth jokingly asks: "Shall we have an end-of-scene party?
Firth thinks we have all got a touch of the Donovan Quicks about us. "Like most powerful myths, it's universal. If there's anything I'm passionate about or decide to fight, it's usually a case of Don Quixote ? a pathetically ineffectual human being taking on something which doesn't feel the blows at all and which is probably the wrong target anyway. Donovan never gets a punch in before he's flat on his back, but his spirit is winning and his courage is absolute. Donovan is never going to get the girl, he's never going to defeat the dragon, but he's going to keep going anyway. Is there a better way to describe the human condition?"
MR. DARCY - DRIVING A BUS?
The man who wowed women as Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice is on TV this Christmas as a very different kind of romantic hero - Scotland's bravest, noblest, most chivalrous bus driver. Colin Firth is the mysterious Donovan Quick in BBC1's film. And Colin says driving a bus was more challenging than riding a horse in Jane Austen's classic. "I found it difficult to judge widths, speeds and braking time... I didn't take enough lessons to get my licence but learnt how to stop, open the door, turn corners and reverse."
Donovan arrives in the town of Port Clyde and takes digs with drink-sodden landlady Lucy (Katy Murphy) and her bizarre family - son Jim (Paul Doonan) who steals cars, Gran (Liz Smith) who wanders about in her underwear, and grown-up brother Sandy (David Brown), who has learning difficulties and plays with his train set all night. When thew train taking Sandy to his day centre is axed by profit-obsessed Windmill Transport, Donovan buys an old bus and sets up in competition, hiring Sandy as a conductor and Gran as a clerk.
"I didn't find the fight scenes uncomfortable. What I didn't like, though, was watching David Brown getting beaten up as Sandy," says Colin, 40.
David's performance is particularly poignant because he has the same learning disability as Sandy, yet he impressed all the cast with his dedication and good humour. "Seeing this wonderful man acting hurt was upsetting because he was so real. The guy whose job it was to provoke him and hit him would shake his hand after each take."
QUICK... WARN BRIAN SOUTER
Can ruthless star in TV's Donovan Quick be based on our own pious tycoon? Here's the story so far: a ruthless bus tycoon uses every trick in the book to drive his small-time rivals off the roads of quiet Scottish towns. Quite how Brian Souter, whose real-life Stagecoach empire has made him the richest man in Scotland, will view a certain new TV drama series, we may never know. But the BBC believe that millions of other viewers will soon be gripped by Donovan Quick.
The series follows the efforts of bus boss George Mackie and his Windmill Transport empire to crush their opposition, and is named after a local hero who stands up to Windmill's multi- national might.
Fundamentalist Christian Brian Souter, who is leading the campaign to keep Section 28, is known to love nothing more than a quality television drama. But he might not love this one. Despite reassurances by the BBC, there are plenty of people who suspect he might find this tale a little too close for comfort.
Pride and Prejudice heart-throb Colin Firth takes the title role, opposite David Westhead, of Mrs. Brown and The Lakes, as the grasping Mackie.
The story sees Mackie take over a small transport firm and begin to axe services, including one to a day centre for the disabled. Enter the charismatic Quick, who, with disabled pal Sandy Pannick (played by David Brown) has the guts to start his own one-bus firm to replace the service. Quick and Pannick are soon so successful they become a target for Mackie, who tries to poach their route.
The BBC have high hopes for the series, scripted by Donna Franceschild and directed by David Blair, the team who came up with the award-winning Takin' Over the Asylum. They are billing it as one of their most emotive dramas of recent years. Interestingly for a work of fiction, documentary film-maker John Mair was brought in as a consultant.
Mair's hard-hitting films include two which may have helped him in that role. The first was his damning World in Action expos of Souter's business practices, Cowboy Country. The second was an equally critical Frontline Scotland probe - Stagecoach Comes to Town - which so infuriated Souter he spent pounds 70,000 placing ads in the Scottish Press to rubbish the programme. Does Mair detect a whiff of Souter in fictional bus boss Mackie?
"I couldn't say," he says. "I saw it at a cast screening. It is brilliant. Very good indeed. It is very clever. It is Blair and Franceschild on song. It is brought up to date with a large bus company which we are never allowed to name."
Meanwhile, Chicago-born Franceschild, who now lives in Argyll, stressed that Donovan Quick was simply about the tension between "big capitalism and little people". She said:
"Writers take inspiration from many things. Basically, I wanted to write about big companies that kind of squash small people. That was what interested me. Bus deregulation and train franchises were part of that picture in the Eighties. Margaret Thatcher's kind of capitalism encouraged that rampant steam rolling of everybody in your path.
Donovan Quick is very contemporary because the situation where the big national company wipes out the little guy has now reached grotesque proportions. But I was never interested in going after anybody in particular. I wouldn't like to say that I had." As the movie-men - and the BBC's lawyers - say: "The people and events portrayed are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental...
A tilt at far more than mere windmills
/.../ You have to suppress an urge to punch the screen during this opening scene from Donovan Quick, a witty and touching film about the manifold failures of the privatised transport system, which is being broadcast on BBC1 on Thursday. As the transport network continues to have a collective nervous-breakdown, it is a highly topical piece that will resonate with everyone who battled to get home for Christmas by bus or train.
Written 18 months ago, Donna Franceschild's script now looks like a work of supreme prescience. An ingenious recasting of the Don Quixote myth, her drama depicts a world where the needs of passengers often seem to be the last concern of the huge multinational companies now running the transport network. It is hard to avoid the impression that they consistently put profits before people.
On to this stage strides the inspirational figure of Donovan Quick (played with panache by Colin Firth). An honourable but deluded man, he decides he has had enough of the hopeless transport system and resolves to have a tilt at Windmill. /.../
He may be doomed to failure, but he is sure as hell not going to go down without a damn good fight. "For evil to triumph," he announces rousingly, "it requires only that good people do nothing."
As he climbs behind the wheel on his first day, Donovan delivers a stirring cri de coeur to Sandy Pannick (read, Sancho Panza), who has become his conductor. "We are about to embark on a great mission, Sandy, a great quest to fight the mighty Windmill. And they will try to defeat us - make no mistake about that. And they won't care who they hurt because there are no people in their equations. Only 'customers' and 'labour units', who only exist on paper and not in flesh or blood."
Donovan soon gathers popular support as the passengers turn against Windmill's bully-boy tactics. One loyal supporter of Donovan's bus tells Sandy: "The wife says that she wants to go to Amsterdam on holiday, but there's no chance. I'm not going anywhere where there are any windmills." /.../
The idea of one man taking on an apparently invincible enemy generates the conflict which is essential for any effective drama. "I wanted to find a monolithic giant against which Donovan could fight," Franceschild recalls. "I thought of creating a rapacious, Thatcherite company, and during my research, I came across a former miner in Fife who'd started up a one-man bus operation with his redundancy money and immediately fell foul of a big bus company. /.../
Donovan proves an inspiring example. "Don't we all reach a point in our lives where we want to be like Don Quixote?" asks David Blair, the director of Donovan Quick. "That David and Goliath thing of taking on the bully is something we all want to do. People relate to the rudiments of the story. The film explores the ways in which Donovan enriches people's lives subliminally. He emotionally fulfils the people with whom he comes into contact.'' /.../
Donovan Quick is very much in the noble tradition of the eternal toiler.
"Look at the myth of Sisyphus, the man who endlessly pushes a stone up a hill," says Firth. "Or the novel, The Famished Road. In that, we are shown a vision of people in a village building a road to paradise. They have only built two or three feet, but it is the most beautiful, jewel- encrusted section. They have been working on it for 2,000 years, and they will never get to paradise. Being comfortable with that lack of resolution is as close as we're ever going to get to understanding anything. We have to accept paradoxes. Any search for clarity beyond that is doomed. Like Donovan, we make the mistake of thinking we've found the magic formula, or the system for winning at roulette, or the perfect political system. It's not about finding answers, but relentlessly pursuing them. You are always travelling; you never arrive."
Particularly if you happen to be on a Windmill bus...