John Bellany film shown on TV

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We first reported on the film being made about John Bellany’s life back in February 2008 (article here) That film is now finished and will be shown on TV in the UK this week end

An intimate portrait of a family imploding as they try to cope with the father’s alcoholism and its toll on their lives is at the heart of this documentary. The father at the centre of the piece is renowned Scottish artist John Bellany.

The man who has made the film is his younger son, Paul, who, two years ago, left his post as visual effects artist on the Harry Potter movies to embark on this very personal project, Bellany – Fire in the Blood.

The hour-long film is a very honest and moving but also ultimately uplifting picture of a family disintegrating, experiencing their pain and emerging back together as told in the words of all the family members, against a backdrop of their father’s work, a trove of personal pictures and songs specially written and recorded by the film-maker.

Paul, his brother Jonathan, sister Anya and their mother, Helen – and, of course, their father, John Bellany, who grew up in the east-coast villages of Port Seton and Eyemouth – all contribute.

Paul admits it was a daunting project: “I knew we would have to go into areas that would be difficult and that I was asking a lot from my family, but their candid honesty surprised even me and certainly helped shape the film.

“It was an emotional rollercoaster ride for us all. During some of the early edits, tears were falling down my cheeks as I reviewed what I had captured.

“There were also many moments of laughter, particularly at the stories of some my father’s more outlandish episodes.”

The film takes us through the breakup of his parents’ marriage when Paul was only five, his father’s chaotic single life in London and subsequent marriage to Juliet, who, tortured by mental illness, tragically went on to take her own life.

Throughout, we see the pain of a family watching their father dissolve and almost die as a result of excessive drinking.

As he researched the film, Paul uncovered forgotten paintings of his father’s and drawings dating back to the artist’s schooldays. Many of the works conjured up childhood memories of his own.

“From an early age, I knew there was something special about my father. I would lie awake on Sunday mornings, staring for hours at the ever-changing paintings that hung in the bedroom I shared with my older brother. I was intrigued, puzzled and, in the middle of the night, when a car light reflected through on to one of the half-bird, half-human creatures staring out from the canvas, I’m not ashamed to say I was a little scared.”

The film celebrates the artist’s work from being awarded the CBE to the staging of major exhibitions and the controversy over his portrait of cricketing legend Ian Botham, while revealing snippets such as an uplifting serenade at Bellany’s sick bed from none other than Rolf Harris.

The artist reached a crisis point with his drinking on a family trip to France in 1984 and knew that his last drink might well have been followed swiftly by his last breath.

“Everything was falling to bits. And then I started to think about my life in general. It was mostly on what I had done wrong that I dwelt. And all the mistakes I had made came flooding into my mind,” he says.

John Bellany is now 67, reunited with his first wife, Helen, and lives in the Serchio Valley region of Italy, where he is much feted and evidently adored.

Wife Helen says: “We’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to turn it all around. And whatever life holds in front of us, we’ve had such a life.”

After various health crises caused by his drinking, the couple are now facing up to the news that the artist’s eyesight is failing, due to a condition called macular degeneration. They are facing up to this bad news with typical Bellany resilience.

Helen, who was born and grew up in Golspie, Sutherland, said: “If anyone can paint when they are going blind, it will be John.”

An exhibition entitled John Bellany: Love in the Abyss, Paintings, 1968-2010, is featured at Beaux Arts, 22 Cork Street, London, from April 14 to May 15. source – David Dalziel –

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Bellany – Fire in the Blood is now available on BBC iplayer

Currently BBC iPlayer TV programmes are available to play in the UK only,