Closing the ring
Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer, Mischa Barton
Stephen Amell, Neve Campbell, Pete Postlethwaite, Brenda Fricker
Gregory Smith and Martin McCann
Release date: 6 March 2008
Running time: 118 minutes
About the production
From Academy Award-winning director Richard Attenborough (Gandhi, Shadowlands, Chaplin, Cry Freedom) comes Closing the Ring, a deeply moving love story of an American woman who honours a wartime promise of love with a lifetime of heartache until the discovery of a gold ring reawakens her. Spanning two continents and half a century, Closing the Ring stars Academy Award-winner Shirley MacLaine (In Her Shoes, Terms of Endearment), Christopher Plummer (A Beautiful Mind, The Insider), Mischa Barton (television’s The OC.), Academy Award-nominee Pete Postlethwaite (The Constant Gardener, In the Name of the Father) and Academy Award-winner Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot, The Field).
In 1941, in Branagan, Michigan, the beautiful and spirited Ethel Ann Roberts captures the hearts of three friends, Teddy Gordon, Jack Etty and Chuck Harris, all young airmen. But Ethel Ann only has eyes for Teddy, a country boy with an open face and a dazzling smile. Their romance is full of passion and dreams for the future, until the Japanese attack Pearl Harbour and Branagan’s boys are called to war. After a secret wedding, Teddy leaves with Ethel’s ring, her promise of eternal love - and a pact with Chuck that he will take care of Ethel if Teddy doesn’t make it back.
Two years later, Teddy’s B-17 Bomber crashes into Belfast’s Black Mountain. Ethel buries her searing pain, along with mementos of Teddy behind a wall in the home they had built together. She marries Chuck, bears him a daughter and lives with her heartache. When Chuck dies in 1991, a rift grows between Ethel and her daughter, Marie, who knew nothing of her mother’s past. Only Jack, whose love for Ethel has never waned, knows the secret she carries in her heart. And when a young Irish boy in Belfast unearths a gold ring inscribed with Ethel and Teddy’s names, the discovery finally brings Ethel’s past crashing down around her. Marie discovers the truth about her mother’s past, and Jack makes one last attempt to heal the pain of a lifetime. Now Ethel must travel to Ireland - either to end her life, or to begin it again. Inspired by true events, Closing the Ring is an epic romance about loss and closure, love and reconciliation, and the ability to find happiness when it seems all but gone.
Closing the Ring features a supporting cast that includes Neve Campbell (The Company, Scream), Gregory Smith (television’s Everwood), David Alpay (Ararat), Ian McElhinney (The Boxer, Hamlet), and newcomers Stephen Amell, Martin McCann, and Allan Hawco.
Closing the Ring is produced by Richard Attenborough and Jo Gilbert (Brylcreem Boys) with co-producer Martin Katz (Hotel Rwanda). The screenplay is by Peter Woodward. The film is a production of Closing the Ring Productions and Prospero Pictures with Scion Films, a presentation of the UK Film Council and the Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission in association with ContentFilm International and Alliance Atlantis. The film’s behind-the-scenes team includes long-time Attenborough collaborators cinematographer Roger Pratt and editor Lesley Walker, whose previous outings with Attenborough include Shadowlands and Cry Freedom. The production designer is Tom McCullagh (Mickybo & Me) and the costume designer is Hazel Webb-Crozier (Mickybo & Me).
About the story
During World War II, more than 300,000 American military personal passed through or were based in Northern Ireland. On June 1, 1944, ten of these young American servicemen died when their B-17 bomber lost its bearings in heavy fog and crashed into Belfast’s Cave Hill. Over fifty years later, a news item about a discovery at the crash site of one airman’s wedding ring struck a chord in writer Peter Woodward, inspiring him to write Closing the Ring.
“I grew up with stories about the Second World War,” recalls Woodward. “My father [actor Edward Woodward] was a lad during the war - he lived in an area in South London that had been bombed twice - and his experiences and the experiences of that whole generation have always fascinated me. For some people, that time during the war was the most exciting period of their lives, the time when they had the most fun and when they lived more thoroughly than any other time; others look back on it as a nightmare from which they escaped with their lives and nothing more. “When I heard the news item about the discovery of the ring, it made me wonder what the ramifications of that discovery would be,” says Woodward. “And the more I thought about it, about the return of a ring to a beloved, the effect it would have on all the characters who might be involved - the remarkable effect of all that history - I knew that it could be the basis for a wonderful screenplay. I decided to write a story about someone who was young and beautiful and vital during that time of the Second World War, lost her loved one, and never really got over it; someone who made a promise and, for her own reasons, tried to keep it for the rest of her life. Lovers make promises; lovers promise each other that they will love one another forever. But the fact is, if you’re not able to break the promises you made to lovers past and lovers dead you cannot move on.”
Woodard gave the finished screenplay to long-time associate Jo Gilbert, who says that while she initially agreed to read the script with some trepidation, she quickly realized that Woodward had written something very special.
“I was more than a little nervous when Peter asked me to take a look at his script,” admits Gilbert. “I thought what if it’s awful - what do you say to a friend? But it was an extraordinary read, the characters just leapt off the page. I knew that I would be mad not to make this movie.”
Gilbert points out that although the film is undeniably a love story, what makes it different from most films of the genre, is that it is a love story set against the backdrop of conflict. “The film is an illumination of what war and conflict can do to the human state,” she says. “Ethel lost the love of her life due to conflict, which is something that happens throughout the world and is something which is part of the human state. It isn’t isolated, it happens everywhere.”
Gilbert sought out the only person she believed could do justice in bringing Closing the Ring to the motion picture screen - Lord Richard Attenborough, whose acclaimed career as a director, actor and producer spans over 60 years and includes such films as Shadowlands, Cry Freedom and Gandhi, the latter of which received eight Academy Awards and five BAFTA Awards, including ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’ on both sides of the Atlantic.
Closing the Ring says Attenborough, attracted him because of its ingenious screenplay, which he says was one of the best first scripts he’d ever read. “For me, the script is everything,” states Attenborough. “I love movies that deal with human relationships and their emotions and I was absolutely bowled over by this one. It was unequivocally one of the most exciting, most original, most authentic first screenplays I’ve ever read. And indeed what was extraordinary was: it had a wonderful sense of cinema. It wasn’t just a beginning, a middle and end. It had an intricacy and sophistication in relation to cinema, which I thought was absolutely marvellous, as well as true and sensitively drawn characters by the writer. I found it moving, I found it amusing, I found it informative, I found it challenging; it is a most extraordinary love story.”
Attenborough also had empathy for the subject matter; he himself flew as an air gunner cameraman in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. “I have memories of suffering from severe air sickness,” he says with a groan. “It was not one of my favourite times, between breathing through the air mask and being sick.”
Attenborough immediately sent the script to Shirley MacLaine. The two had first worked together in 1968 when they co-starred in “The Bliss of Mrs Blossom” and have remained good friends over the years. “Shirley is one of the great cinematic personalities,” says Attenborough. “She is as exciting and as relevant and as professional as anybody you could meet and I absolutely adore her. The first thing I said to Sheila, my wife, when I read the script was ‘Here is a chance to work with Shirley again. There is one woman on earth who should play this part, it could have been written for her.’ “
MacLaine jumped at the opportunity to collaborate once again with her old friend. “If Dickie would have sent me the phone book I probably would have said ‘Okay, let’s do the A’s and B’s’ just to work with him again,” laughs MacLaine. “But I thought the script was wonderful, it was filled with romanticism and the tragedy of war, which might be very timely now given what this country is doing. I think that men and women both have a deep sense of denial that they don’t want something they loved to end, and because of it they have trouble enjoying the life that’s in front of them. When you lose something that you were deeply committed to and loved, you have to come to terms with it and the way to come to terms with it is what we study in this movie. That attracted me and I found it very inspirational.”
With MacLaine on board in the role of Ethel, the search for financing began in earnest. Over the next five years the filmmakers developed the project and worked at finding the funds that would enable them to begin production. In 2004, the pieces of the puzzle came together when financing was put in place to produce Closing the Ring as a Northern Ireland/UK/Canada co-production.
The screenplay particularly impressed Canadian co-producer Martin Katz, whose previous credits include the critically acclaimed Hotel Rwanda. “There are some screenplays that just jump out at you,” says Katz. “When I read the screenplay for Closing the Ring I had the same experience that I’d had reading the screenplay for Hotel Rwanda. The humanity, the comedy, the tragedy really jumped off the page... I picked up the phone and said ‘how can I help?’”
On March 26, 2006, Peter Woodward was honoured with the rare distinction of seeing his first feature screenplay directed and performed by some of the most distinguished talents in the business.
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