Inspired by a painting of a woman facing down hell, Jim Broadbent’s graphic novel with Dix is a true passion project.
The character of Dull Margaret began to take shape in Jim Broadbent’s head more than ten years ago.
Inspired by a Breugel painting, the well-loved actor began to formulate the story of a female hermit who lived by the marshes catching eels. Originally a screenplay, the story has finally come to life as a graphic novel, with artwork by Dix.
Broadbent says, “I got into the whole idea of fairy stories – grown up fairy stories. I am from Lincolnshire and I’ve spent a lot of time on the Lincolnshire coast and the marshes – I have always loved the bleakness of them.
“I’ve also always loved the art of Bosch, Bruegel and also Goya. In particular there was one picture by Bruegel called ‘Dulle Gret’ of a woman walking past the gates of hell. It is also called ‘Mad Meg’ – but I liked the word dull.”
One of the UK’s most successful actors, Broadbent is known for his roles in Paddington, Harry Potter, and Moulin Rouge. He won an Oscar for his role as John Bayley in Iris and a BAFTA for the Channel 4 drama Longford. In keeping with his roots, he originally hoped Dull Margaret would be a film.
“I wrote it as a screenplay but it is a tough process and for one reason and another they couldn’t see any way of turning my ideas into a feature film. But I always had it in mind that it could be a graphic novel.”
Broadbent came across the cartoonist Dix through ‘Roll Up! Roll Up!’, the story of a poverty stricken circus. When Broadbent first got in touch the cartoonist was starstruck: “I kept telling him how good he was in Only Fools and Horses.”
The two began talking on the phone and through email, with Dix incorporating Jim’s visual descriptions of the story, and what would become Dull Margaret began to take shape. “I asked Jim for feedback and he kept telling me he liked everything,” says Dix.
As for Dull Margaret herself, the artist was a fan. “I had a lot of empathy for the character. She is quite strong and there is humour in there as well. Jim thought of me because I have a very dark sense of humour.”
Broadbent echoes this feeling. “I’d like people to like Margaret and I’d like them to be sympathetic to her and not feel she’s a bad person. I empathise with her and want the best for her.”
More than this, he’s delighted with the final product. “I’m very pleased with it. It came back very much how I pictured it – but better. I like the look and the feel of it. I haven’t really got a writer’s mentality, I haven’t got that gene but I like narrative.”
Last year, Jim Broadbent appeared in Game of Thrones and talks of the filming experience in Belfast fondly. “It was extraordinary to be part of that production juggernaut – several episodes being shot at the same time with different directors.” But on the question of whether his character will return, he maintains the suspense: “he isn’t dead – so he may.”
His appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival with Dix marks a return to the city for Broadbent, who spent many happy summers in Edinburgh, particularly with the National Theatre of Brent.
However, Jim Broadbent will only be in the capital for one day, before rushing away to rehearsals for the West End production of Martin McDonagh’s play, A Very Very Very Dark Matter, about the life of Hans Christian Anderson.
Much like Dull Margaret, he says of the play, “it’s very good, but really dark, which is why it appealed to me.”
WHERE & WHEN
Jim Broadbent & Dix, Baillie Gifford Main Theatre, 23 August, 3.15pm, £12