True Brit grit in Redemption

Redemption chronicles the romance between a former war veteran and a nun. The characters are portrayed by Jason Statham and Agata Buzek (both above).

SINGAPORE - If you have noticed that only two kinds of films get made in England today - the corset-and-parasol drama set in 1880 or the crime thriller featuring brutal, sardonic London hard men - you are not alone.

British film-maker Steven Knight, 53, is only too aware of the trend. The writer-director of the thriller Redemption, which opens tomorrow, sees those pictures as pandering to stereotypes of the English for the sake of the export market.

Speaking to Life! on the telephone from his home near London, he says: "If you want to make a film set in Britain, you have a choice. If it's a story about middle-class people, you need to set it about a hundred years ago, to make it palatable to an international audience.

"People don't really care about the lives of ordinary people living now in England. But they are fascinated with Jane Austen, all that stuff."

The other major genre, gangland thrillers, trades in cartoonish images of the working class. "They are tough, Cockney, semi-humorous renegades, but not human. They are working class, so you have to depict them as something like animals," he says.

He has discovered from feedback that viewers are so used to seeing such a narrow range of movie characters and situations about London that some could find Redemption's story "confusing" because of the central relationship in the story.

"A film is supposed to be about things they recognise as fiction. So if a special forces soldier has a relationship with a nun, they might not recognise it as fiction because things like that don't happen in fiction, they happen in real life," he says.

That story of a former soldier's affection for a Catholic nun is one of the several true accounts he unearthed from interviews with Londoners while developing the script. That romance drives the plot, which features action star Jason Statham as the war veteran Joey and Polish-German actress Agata Buzek as Sister Cristina, the nun.

Joey, struggling with post traumatic stress disorder following a tour in Iraq, becomes an alcoholic vagrant.

He breaks into a posh apartment and, discovering that the owner will be away for months, assumes his identity.

He sends gifts to Cristina, a woman he was never able to thank previously. She runs a soup kitchen for the destitute. Statham was eager to play the tormented Joey once he had been sent the script, says Knight. Once the star of high-octane movies such as The Transporter (2002) and the Crank franchises (2006, 2009) had signed on, financiers flocked to support Knight's first feature, even if it lacked export-friendly characteristics.

The film-maker is today best known for his screenplay for Eastern Promises (2007). Directed by David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts, the thriller about Russian mobsters and sex trafficking in London was only moderately successful at the box office on its release but has since become a cult favourite on DVD and in special fan screenings.

"People came to it late and over the years, it's become a better and better film," jokes Knight.

Like Redemption, and Knight's screenplay for the drama Dirty Pretty Things (2002, directed by Stephen Frears), Eastern Promises features characters that reflect London's mix of races and social classes and the blurred line between that which is legal and that which is just.

His works have enjoyed an "enduring reputation", he says, which proves that films do not have to cater to audience biases about London and England to be successful.

"Any time you depict what is really going on right now, it becomes increasingly fascinating," he says.

It does not look as if Knight is done with the city in which he has lived a large part of his life.

He has just wrapped shooting on his second directorial feature, Locke, a thriller starring Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises, 2012). England and London, in particular, have been the primary shooting locations.

Knight might still be fascinated with his hometown, but that feeling is not entirely shared by his crew.

"All the people who have worked with me on these freezing cold nights, in Soho and on motorways, are all suggesting that the next film I write and direct should be set on a beach. And I think that is an excellent idea," he says.