Before Danny Boyle was famous, and not long before 28 Days Later came out, I interviewed him, and he said something incredible that I actually believed. Looking back at his experience directing The Beach, a big-budget fiasco in which the studio insisted he use Leonardo Di Caprio rather than the then-little-known Ewan McGregor, Boyle said he’d has his chance at Hollywood commercial success and wasn’t ambitious for it anymore; he had a comfortable life making the films he wanted, and that was fine with him.
It was simple instinct that made me believe Boyle, when in almost any other case I would have seen that disclaimer as image-saving spin. So when Slumdog Millionaire –which, you’ll recall, was no big-budget studio project, but a little film that crept up on the world – I was especially happy that Hollywood success had come to the right person, the guy who had quit reaching for it.
You could see that modest, mordant, self-assured side of Boyle in his Olympics Opening Ceremony, with its instant-classic James Bond And The Queen Go Skydiving mini-film (I forgive him anything for that, even the sheep). And now that you’ve seen his Olympics spectacular, there are a few lesser-known Boyle films you might want to catch up on.
You know about Slumdog, 27 Hours, and his hallucinatory yet strangely lucid guys-on-drugs movie, Trainspotting. And 28 Days Later (2002) is one of his best, with London decimated by a virus that turns people violent. Made for little money, in near-guerilla style (with CiIlian Murphy trying to outrun the virus), it’s the smartest, scariest zombie-apocalypse film of our time.
But here are a couple of lesser-known Boyle films worth catching.
MILLIONS (2004) The Olympics scene in which Mary Poppins defeats Voldemort was clearly made by the same man who directed this family-friendly charmer about the power of childhood imagination. When two young boys who have recently lost their mother find a cache of money, the older wants to keep it, while 7-year old Damian – whose imaginary friends include saints, whom he hopes will lead him to his Mum – wants to give it to the poor. It is the least typical of Boyle’s films, yet in his hands there is nothing sugary in this comic tale about love, mourning and generosity.
SHALLOW GRAVE (1994) Boyle’s first feature, this dark comedy-drama is still one of his best, despite the hilariously dated hair on Ewan McGregor and Kerry Fox. They, along with Christopher Eccleston, play roommates whose new, fourth renter suddenly drops dead, leaving a mysterious bag of money behind (found money seems to be a Boyle theme). They do what anyone would: bury the body, keep the cash, and go on to fight bitterly and maybe even lethally about the fortune and their secret.
Boyle didn’t begin as a film director; he started out in theater, including the Royal Court, and last year directed a brilliant version of Frankenstein at the National Theater, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating the roles of Frankenstein and the Monster. Of course, Cumberbatch is PBS’s contemporary Sherlock in London, and Miller about to star in CBS’s Elementary as …a contemporary Sherlock in New York. The dueling Frankensteins have become dueling Sherlocks – a droll twist worthy of a Danny Boyle movie.