When I got into the Empire Eight theatre, after showing my special gold-star invite and receiving my plastic bag of Margaret’s Museum coal candy, I sat next to Ida Donovan because I figured that’s where the action would be. After all, Ida co-starred as Kenneth Welsh’s wife in the movie and tape recorded the entire film script so that Helena Bonham Carter could learn her lines with the benefit of a genuine Cape Breton accent. She also helped the scriptwriters make their dialogue more authentically Cape Breton, something they publicly thanked her for. I figured Ida would give me a good introduction to Helena Bonham Carter, who broke my heart in a dozen films before.
Before the screening began everyone involved in the movie got up and said hello: Sheldon Currie, whose darkly funny fiction inspired the film, Gerald Wexler, the scriptwriter, Mort Ransen, the director, (Wexler and Ransen share a Genie award for best script), and actors Kenneth Welsh and Helena Bonham Carter (dressed like her movie character in a long, flower-print vintage dress, frowzy dark cardigan, and clunky black shoes laced up over black socks) still a heart-breaker. They all seemed justifiably proud of their work and had a genuine affection for Cape Breton summed up by Helena who told the audience that despite the film’s enthusiastic reception from the North American and European film festival circuit, “the most important reaction is the one you guys have.” Us guys loved it big time, Helena.
During the reception, held afterward at the Rockinghorse Inn, Ida introduced me as a local reviewer to Helena (Genie for best actress) and Kenneth Welsh (Genie for best supporting actor). “I guess that means we have to suck up to you then,” Helena said.
Before I could ask for an autograph, she was surrounded by other signature seekers. I gallantly loaned her my pen and my briefcase to write on. I told Ken Welsh I am a big Twin Peaks fan and loved his evil Windom Earle character. He said it was a great show to work on and a fun character to play. Ken really wants to be a Cape Bretoner, and, based on the strength of his film performance, I’m ready to vote him into the club.
I also spoke with Gerald Wexler who started the ball rolling when he decided Currie’s story would make a great film. Currie’s short story collection was one of only two books published by a small Montreal press before it went out of business. The book’s publisher was a friend of Wexler and gave him a copy along with an enthusiastic recommendation. It sat on Wexler’s shelf for two years until one day he was going out for a walk and he grabbed the book to take with him. The rest, as they say in Cannes, is history.
While munching on the lobster and smoked salmon hors d’ouvres, I chatted with Murdoch MacDonald, who plays a tight-arsed company store clerk in the movie, and Kyle MacNeil who, with his brother Sheumas, plays fiddle in the film. By this time, Ken Welsh was in the middle of the floor dancing the jig that Carl MacKenzie and Patricia Chafe were playing in the corner.
I never got my autographs. But the next morning, when I picked my pen out of my briefcase, it had a wild, flowery scent still clinging to it. I put the pen in a plastic sandwich bag, hoping I might keep the scent alive forever.