"The scene is Brighton and the plot is familiar: an older, wealthy successful man and a young, ambitious woman getting together for a dirty weekend.

But this is not another tale of sexual shenanigans by the sea. The alliance is an unlikely and intriguing one. He is the bombastic film director Michael Winner. She is the reclusive feminist Helen Zahavi.

The fruit of their union is Dirty Weekend, the film by Winner of the book by Zahavi..."

Sarah Villiers, Scotland on Sunday
Photo of Michael Winner on set 

Working with Michael Winner

A few months after completing my first novel, I had a phone call from my literary agent, David Grossman.

'A film director is interested in making Dirty Weekend,' he said. 'I think you might have heard of him . . .'

Never having moved in the film world, I had, like many people, a fairly typical, unrealistic image of film directors, imagining them to be rather flamboyant characters with strong opinions, loud voices and big cigars. Imagine my surprise, then, when I finally met Michael Winner.

'Let's have a chat, darling,' he said, over the phone. 'I'll send round a limousine to collect you.' A somewhat battered Mazda saloon duly arrived, and I was driven to Michael's splendid Victorian house in leafy Holland Park.

Michael Winner had had vast experience as a director, having worked with major British and American stars including Marlon Brando, Oliver Reed and Charles Bronson, and it was enormously exciting to meet him.

He was hugely enthusiastic about Dirty Weekend, and very sympathetic to the heroine. He wanted the screenplay to be true to the book, and suggested we write it together, a technique he had used successfully with other adaptations. A few days later he bought the rights, and a few weeks later we began work.

The process of adapting the book into a screenplay went fairly smoothly. Michael Winner was a charming and witty man, with a colourful turn of phrase. He only lost his temper when he was hungry. The day we started work on the script, he began a diet. 

He insisted that the scene where Reggie, the depraved dentist, ties Bella's wrists to the steering-wheel and forces her to have oral sex was a physical impossibility.

'It can't be done,' he said.

'Why not?' I said.

'I'm a film director,' he said. 'I know these things.'

Eventually, after much pouting, hair-tossing, tantrum-throwing and flouncing off in a winsome huff (film people can be so temperamental) the script was completed. The violence in the book was toned down for the screen, and Michael proved tenacious in his commitment to the film.

Michael Winner, who made the iconic and much-imitated Death Wish - and other significant movies such as West Eleven and The Nightcomers - was going to make a film of my book, and my life would never be the same again.

*   *   *

Comments by critics - and by Michael Winner

One of the most controversial novels of recent years has been turned into a film by one of Britain's most controversial directors

Brian Pendreigh, The Scotsman

I loved the first sent
ence - 'This is the story of Bella who woke up one morning and realised she'd had enough'.  It was one of the most original works I had read. Extremely witty. I became obsessed about filming it

Michael Winner, Scotland on Sunday

Dirty Weekend
is arguably the most pornographic film ever to pass the British censor

Carol Sarler, The Sunday Times

People who accuse Dirty Weekend of being pornographic are those with no knowledge of the genre. You need to be intelligent to get the most out of it. It's a movie with a message - and how many of those have you seen this year?

Mark Kermode, Film Critic

This is about the modern woman who has had enough of being humiliated, who says, 'Go f*** yourself, I've had enough.' I consider her an absolute heroine. Having said that, if I had met her 15 years ago I'd probably be dead by now

Michael Winner, The Sunday Times

A jet-black genre-bender of femme vengeance from the British bestseller by Helen Zahavi...Winner plays up the unreality with off-center framing and careful use of lenses, recalling Polanski...Has the seeds of a cult movie down the tracks

Derek Elley, Variety

I remember speaking to Salman Rushdie at a very literary party. 'What are you making now?' he asked. 'Dirty Weekend,' I said. 'I read it, it's sh**,' said Rushdie. 'Didn't you think it was funny?' I asked, thinking of the rave reviews for its wit. 'Sh**,' repeated Salman, in case I hadn't understood him the first time. Thus ended my only chance of an intellectual chat with Mr. R

Michael Winner, The Sunday Times

Funny and even, at moments, touching...Winner's best film in ages

Tom Hibbert, Empire

Dirty Weekend says that if you persecute a group
- namely women - for long enough, don't be surprised if they come back at you with all guns blazing

Michael Winner, Sunday Mail

Full of violence and black humour. And it will disturb men and women alike

Melanie Reid, Sunday Mail

The idea that the killer in Dirty Weekend is a woman
- that's what people find so shocking and so unsettling. It upsets their ideas about the place of a woman in society

 Michael Winner, Sunday Mail

There is a visceral thrill in watching Bella dispatch three yobs who had been threatening to set an old woman alight...The film deserves serious critical attention

 Brian Pendreigh, The Scotsman 

Bella was the avenging angel for all insults to all women. I had a great belief in the book. It was written in a very unusual style and was absolutely remarkable, an original, brave and extraordinary work that easily lent itself to film with very little change

Michael Winner, Aberdeen Press & Journal

After a short struggle I gave up and enjoyed this film. It's crude, rude and preposterous. But at least it's lively. And what is life without lurid contrasts between Good and Bad?

Nigel Andrews, Financial Times

You can't only make films about nice people doing nice things . . .

Michael Winner



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