Klavan On The Culture

A Real Talent: Steven Knight

And now a word about the culture.

In the arts, success and quality are completely unrelated. That is to say, great works are sometimes hits, and sometimes failures and likewise trash. Great artists are sometimes hailed, sometimes ignored and likewise hacks. A reasonably well-educated person alive in England in 1819, say, when Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Keats, Shelley and Byron were all alive and working, would probably have read only one of them with pleasure, and heard of three of them at most. Only time ultimately sorts the great from the good and bad.

So it is with today’s books and movies. There are popular and unpopular good ones and popular and unpopular bad ones — and no, it’s not just a matter of taste, I’m afraid; but that’s an argument for another day.

Today, I just want to point out one top notch talent currently working mainly in the crime genre. They know his name in the offices in Hollywood, but the general public hasn’t heard about him anywhere near enough.

Steven Knight is a screenwriter of the very first rank. His best work, so far, is Eastern Promises, a crime genre classic directed by David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts. And if you’re not watching his historical British gangster series Peaky Blinders on Netflix, you are missing one of the best things now on the small screen. Locke, starring the great Tom Hardy, is also good. It’s an experimental film that Knight both wrote and directed and it’s small — all you see for the entire movie is a man driving in a car talking on the phone! — but it’s riveting, a writing tour de force, and great fun to discuss afterwards.

Dirty Pretty Things, is a good and underrated film, directed by Stephen Frears. Redemption, a Jason Statham action flick, is a fine entry in the genre (most Statham action flicks are better than other action flicks). Closed Circuit didn’t quite hold together for me, but the writing was intelligent throughout.

In general, of course, screenwriters don’t get the credit they deserve and take more of the blame than they should (all right, I’m prejudiced). For a long time, even I kept referring to Steven Knight as “that guy with the name like a chess piece,” as in, “Yeah, I think that was written by that guy…  you know… with the name like a chess piece… king… knight…”  But now that I realize how good he is, I’ve been keeping an eye out for him and you should too.

If you haven’t seen Eastern Promises, see it. If you’re not watching Peaky Blinders, watch it. And if you have a spare 90 minutes, take a look at Locke. This guy really knows what he’s doing.