Trespass Against Us director Adam Smith on his big screen debut and the film’s commitment to realism

The movie tells the story of Chad Cutler (Michael Fassbender), and his attempts to escape the influence of an overbearing father to secure a better future for his children.

Adam Smith on the set of Trespass Against Us, based on the true story of a family of travellers. Nicola Dove
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Trespass Against Us is something of a departure for Adam Smith, a director best known for his work on music videos and stage shows for electronic act The Chemical Brothers, and the cult British TV teen drama Skins.

For his big-screen debut, he has abandoned his pop-music roots in favour of an ultra-realistic study of life in a community of travellers in Gloucestershire, England.

“I wanted to make a film as it is rather then going for that poppy thing,” he says. “I wanted to take people into a world and really immerse them in it.

“We worked hard on making it as authentic as possible. It’s actually based on a real family. They saw it at a screening, and loved it and thought it was really real and truthful. That was the best compliment we could have had, really.”

The movie tells the story of Chad Cutler (Michael Fassbender), and his attempts to escape the influence of an overbearing father to secure a better future for his children.

In keeping to its commitment to realism, the film studiously avoids any moral judgement on the Cutler clan and their life of crime, opting instead for an objective, almost docudrama approach.

“It’s not as simple as [a case of] he just wants to get away,” Smith says. “Maybe dramatically that might have been a better choice, but there’s that conflict there. He does want to get away, but at the same time he enjoys the life he lives, and he’s pretty good at what he does – even though that’s mostly robbing stately homes and driving stolen cars.

“We just wanted to portray the reality, not view it through any particular set of lenses.”

Still, the bleakness and moral ambiguity mean this is a challenging film to watch. Adding to the challenge, particularly in international markets, the characters’ accents are thick West Country drawls that even I, a native of England, struggled to understand at times.

Smith concedes some viewers might have trouble with the dialect, but is convinced that his commitment to realism was the right decision.

“There was talk of subtitling but we decided not to,” he says. “This is a different world to the one most people experience, and we wanted to show that, not sanitise it and see it through an outsiders eyes.

“The hope is that you kind of catch up with the slang and the accents along the way. Maybe we should have subtitled it for some markets, but we wanted to keep it authentic. Commercially, that could prove a terrible decision, but it’s what we wanted to do.”

In his experience, he adds, international audiences have coped well with the accents.

“We screened it at Toronto,” he says. “I guess you could argue that a film-festival audience is kind of a home crowd, but there were 2,000 people laughing, booing, ahhing and clapping at the end.

“I did a Q&A to a packed house and although some people admitted they’d struggled with the accents, they’d enjoyed it and got what’s going on.”

It helps that Smith pulled off quite a coup in attracting man-of-the-moment Fassbender to his low-budget drama.

“Michael loved the script and I think he really got Chad on a really profound level,” he says.

“It gave him a chance to play a part he’d never really done before. We’ve never seen him as a family man on screen. That and he really likes driving cars fast too,” he adds with a laugh.

• Trespass Against Us is in cinemas from Thursday, February 23. Check out Thursday’s Arts&Life for our review