Monday, April 18, 2022

Philip Gray's "Two Storm Wood"

Philip Gray studied modern history at Cambridge University, and went on to work as a journalist in Madrid, Rome and Lisbon. He has tutored in crime writing at City University in London and serves as a director at an award-winning documentary film company, specialising in science and history.

Gray's grandfather was a captain in the Lancashire Fusiliers and fought through the First World War from start to finish, losing his closest friends along the way. Years after his death, Gray came across a cache of trench maps and military documents that his grandfather had kept, and in which he had recorded the events that befell his unit. Gray was inspired to write his thriller Two Storm Wood when the pull of his grandfather's legacy felt too strong to ignore.

Here the author dreamcasts an adaptation of the new novel:
Two Storm Wood is a period thriller largely set on the dangerous and desolate wastelands of the Western Front, just a few months after the end of World War 1. A young Englishwoman, Amy Vanneck, defying her family and social convention, sets off from England to discover the fate of her fianc√©, Edward Haslam, who vanished at the front during the final summer of the war. Amy’s search leads her to Captain James Mackenzie, who commands one of the many volunteer labour companies tasked with searching the old battlefields for the missing dead – who number in the hundreds of thousands. Mackenzie’s men have discovered the aftermath of an atrocity in a dugout below the old German lines, a matter now under investigation by the War Office in the shape of a disfigured military policeman, Major John Westbrook. Both Amy and Mackenzie find themselves drawn into the hunt for a psychopath, one for whom the horror at Two Storm Wood is not an end, but a beginning.

Amy Vanneck (pronounced Van Eck) is a rebel child from a privileged, but suffocating family. A woman traumatised by guilt and loss, she exhibits extraordinary courage and determination in the face of almost universal disapproval, atrocious conditions and increasing danger – all in the name of love. For this role, my ideal choice would be Daisy Ridley, most recently of Star Wars fame.

Amy’s beloved is Captain Edward Haslam. Edward, a choir master with pacifist principles, goes to war rather than split Amy from her family. There he discovers a disquieting talent for close-quarter combat (with the aid of the narcotics, upon which he becomes increasingly dependent). It is a skill which he employs on trench raids at terrible psychological cost. The actor for this role must be convincing both as an idealistic lover and a pitiless man of action. A good choice might be Joe Alwyn, who recently played the nasty husband in The Last Letter from Your Lover.

In France, Amy’s main ally is Capt James Mackenzie, another prisoner of the battlefields, desperate to do right by the dead. For this role, my ideal would be one of Scotland’s finest, Jack Lowden.

One of Mackenzie’s sergeants is an old comrade of Edward Haslam’s, a boyish but quietly fanatical soldier who begins to take an unhealthy interest in Amy’s search. For this I would pick the versatile Bill Milner.

Last, but not least, is the all-important role of Major Westbrook. Disfigured and psychologically imploding, he still manages to exude competence, authority and no small degree of charisma. His are the deepest, darkest secrets in the story, and nobody could manage this hugely demanding role better than our very own Benedict Cumberbatch. BC quite recently donned WW1 khaki for Sam Mendes’s 1917, in which he played a small, but significant role. But this would be a greater challenge altogether.

As for a director, I would go for Andrew Haigh, who recently directed the intense and gripping period drama The North Water. In that series he used an extreme environment to great effect, which would come in very useful in any adaptation of Two Storm Wood.
Visit Philip Gray's website.

Q&A with Philip Gray.

--Marshal Zeringue