Film and television director;
Born: May 27, 1951; Died: October 25, 2013.
Antonia Bird, who has died aged 62, was a film and television director whose work frequently tackled controversial social issues. Her most famous film Priest starred Linus Roache as a Catholic priest who struggles with his sexuality and his ongoing affair with a man played by Robert Carlyle. Bird and Carlyle also ran a production company with Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting and the film critic Mark Cousins.
Much of the rest of Bird's work reflects the same determination as Priest to address important social issues, up to and including her most recent work for the BBC, The Village, a drama series which followed a family struggling to make ends meet in a grim Derbyshire village. It showed poverty and abuse in the most stark terms.
However, Bird never sacrificed drama for social awareness, which may have been due to her history as a director of soap opera (in the mid to late 80s, she directed episodes of EastEnders, The Bill and Casualty); she also made episodes of Inspector Morse and Peak Practice.
She was born in London and began working in theatre when she was only 17. She worked in a number of roles including stage management, acting, publicity and directing. Among her early work was a version of What The Butler Saw by Joe Orton at the Phoenix Theatre in Leicester. She also worked at the Young Vic and in 1978 became a resident director at the Royal Court.
By the mid 1980s, she had decided that her future lay in television. One of her first jobs was the BBC's new soap opera EastEnders, which started in 1985; she worked on 15 episodes for the first series. She then moved on Casualty among other popular shows.
Priest was her first feature film. Made in 1994 and written by Jimmy McGovern, the creator of Cracker, it followed the story of a priest who arrives in a new parish and struggles to keep his vows after starting a relationship with a man he meets in a gay bar. Made as part of the BBC's Screen Two series, it was shown in 1995, at a time when television had still to learn how to deal directly and openly with the issue of homosexuality.
The priest's lover was played by Carlyle, who went on to develop a close professional and personal relationship with Bird. As well as running their production company, 4Way Pictures, together, they collaborated on a further two films: the 1997 gangster movie Face and Ravenous, a 1999 historical drama in which Carlyle played a cannibal.
Among Bird's most important work was Safe, a 1993 film for BBC2 about homeless teenagers in London, and Care in 2000, again for the BBC, which explored the issue of sexual abuse in children's homes.
She won many awards including Baftas for Safe and Care; she also won a Bafta Children's Award for Off By Heart, a documentary about poetry in schools. Priest was also voted best film at the Berlin International Film Festival and won the people's choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
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