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Adapting a two-man play to the big screen is quite a daunting task. To try and do so whilst tackling an issue like the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001, all the while treading a fine line between light-hearted and tragic, is downright unenviable. And Then Come the Nightjars is as warm and earthy – and occasionally spicy – as farmhouse soup with a couple of chillies thrown in, sowing the seeds for a rich harvest of a movie.
It possesses humility in shovels and stays as faithful to the theatrical version as any film could. Virtually everything’s set against a backdrop of spectacular Devon countryside and – spoiler alert – there’s even a couple of mini-pub quizzes thrown in.
And Then Come the Nightjars was originally a co-production from Theatre503 and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre and went on to have two successful tours, in 2016 and 2017. The two actors who filled the dialogue then do so here, testament to both their love of the story and strength of the script. David Fielder (an apt name, surely) plays Michael, a widowed farmer ageing somewhat disgracefully but charmingly so, whilst Nigel Hastings (who also co-produces) is Jeffrey, the farm vet and Michael’s closest companion. A terrible turn of events is about to put their friendship to the test.
Playwright Bea Roberts is the sole scriptwriter, and with stage director Paul Robinson also at the helm here, it’s easy to see how this is all made to look so effortless. The authenticity is palpable and it still feels like theatre every step of the way. There’s dry humour by the bucket-load, which is offset by a host of cultural references and occasional satire, adding to the sheer relatability of it all.
And yet although it does definitely come across as a stage production, there’s one aspect that can really only be projected on the screen, and that’s just how bloody difficult life on a farm can be. With all the extra elements film can provide, it does mean And Then Come the Nightjars is hard viewing at times. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a moot point as the lighter stuff is always just around the corner.
Although they appear to have much in common on the surface, our dynamic duo of Michael and Jeffrey are very different personalities which are played off each other brilliantly. Although they often disagree, to put it mildly, their love for one another always shines through. Basically, it’s all down to two great actors who know each other almost as well as their characters do. The humour is often naughty but never borders on crude, which means the movie sits nicely in-between sweet and spicy – not too innocent that it gets soppy or overly sentimental.
The journey from 2001 straight into 2009, followed by 2013, is therefore seamless and thoroughly enjoyable. It’s devoid of twists which might come as a disappointment to some, but it really doesn’t need any. You have to remember this is still a two-man play at its heart, so if it’s guilty at times of rambling and predictability then so be it.
This is as much a tour de force on the screen as it was on its original theatrical run seven years ago. And Then Come the Nightjars hits UK cinemas on September 1.