How many actors do you need to make a gripping film? Attenborough’s Ghandi used over 300,000 extras, but in this age of austerity filmmakers are making do with much fewer. Steven Knight has just written and directed Locke, which has only one actor on screen almost all the running time. It also only has one location, the BMW SUV which Ivan Locke is driving to London. The film lasts 85 minutes and follows his journey in real time along a night-time motorway.
Portrayed by Tom Hardy, Locke is a construction engineer who starts the film with the knowledge that by the end of the journey his life will have changed completely. He is a warm-hearted Welshman, reasonable and reasoning, seemingly unflappable in the face of life’s vicissitudes.
Pre-mobile phones it would have been a much less interesting film. Knight has written Locke’s story so as to be told through the conversations he has as he drives. A few years ago he’d have only been able to say ‘I’ll phone you in an hour’ from a phone box and then race down the motorway soliloquising. Now though he can speak to anyone whose number is on his phone, although he also talks to his absent father, defining his own behaviour as distinct and opposite from that of his parent.
So the entire film is of a man driving from to London, answering his phone and making calls. That might sound like a concept too far, but it works. Before the film started I thought we would just have one camera angle, but the camera does move out of the car. Occasionally we see it drive past, we see Locke reflected in the mirrors. Shot from multiple angles in just five days Locke was only in development since the end of last year.
The choice of actor was vital, given that he is the only person we see, and he is in almost every shot. In Tom Hardy’s hands Locke is an efficient machine, coping with the mess of human life calmly and with dignity, though is it really possible for someone to experience quite so serenely all the things that happen? He speaks with his sons and wife, tries to complete a major building project from his car, whilst trying to get to London as quickly as possible. Hardy didn’t have time to learn the lines and read them all from an auto cue.
The lights of the road at night are naturally cinematic and the director has fun combining the lights of the motorway and other cars to create abstract images. Locke is a good example of what can be achieved quickly and relatively cheaply using modern technology.