Press Release Interview
Hugh Bonneville plays Tony Whittaker, an official from the British Embassy in Bangkok, who struggles to cope with the sheer enormity of the humanitarian crisis in the wake of the tsunami.
The actor, who has shone in productions as varied as Iris, Notting Hill, Love Again, Madame Bovary, Daniel Deronda, Beau Brummell, Armadillo, Mansfield Park, Take a Girl Like You, The Cazalets, Tipping The Velvet, The Gathering Storm, Doctor Zhivago, Stage Beauty and Scenes of a Sexual Nature, outlines Tony’s traits.
“He’s a career diplomat whose skills are usually best employed matching up British and Thai interests; he’s more at ease oiling the wheels of diplomacy than driving the engine. So it’s fair to say he’s not really equipped to handle a crisis of this scale.
“Suddenly, there are no real Whitehall guidelines for him to follow. He has to step outside his comfort zone to help the survivors who now look to him for leadership, guidance and action – demands which test his mettle both professionally and as a man.
“As the crisis unfolds he begins to doubt his role, questioning London’s ability to provide help where it’s most needed.
Hugh says it was Abi Morgan’s script that attracted him to the project. “When it was first mentioned I admit I was a bit apprehensive but Abi’s unflinching, unsentimental treatment of the material was superb.
“I was particularly drawn to the relationship between Tony and Kathy, the straight-talking Australian aid worker.
“Kathy’s very much a decision maker. She thrives on chaos and finds the challenges of the growing humanitarian crisis exhilarating. Through her strengths Tony realises his own weaknesses, which I think creates an interesting dynamic between them.
“They often rub each other up the wrong way: while Kathy sees what needs to be done – and done immediately – Tony‘s concern is that it be done in the right way. As their relationship develops Tony comes to terms with his own limitations.”
Hugh talked to family and friends who had worked in the FCO. “To find out about the way it ticks really: the hierarchy, the lingo, the protocol and so on.
“I was interested to learn how someone like Tony operates on a day to day basis in an overseas posting, how well prepared he might be should disaster strike.
“I think the FCO made some mistakes during the tsunami crisis and the official report suggests lessons have been learned. The fact is the tsunami was a natural disaster on an unprecedented scale.
“Some countries reacted and adapted more quickly than others, it’s true, but it was a situation for which no-one could have been comprehensively trained. With that in mind I think the real-life Tonys coped phenomenally well.”
While shooting the film Hugh met a young American who had lost her sister when the tsunami hit Khao Lak. “I asked her if she felt it was too soon for a drama to be made.
“‘It’ll always be too soon for the survivors’, she said, ‘but not soon enough for those who weren’t there. It’s important for me, for us, that people understand what we went through.’
“Her support for the film reassured me and – perhaps in the same way as the film United 93 has been seen as a tribute to those who perished in another devastating tragedy – I think Tsunami, The Aftermath bears witness to some extraordinarily brave, dignified human behaviour in what were to the rest of the world overwhelming circumstances.”
“Like millions of others, I woke up on Boxing Day 2004 to see a tragedy unfolding on television. Shocking, devastating, unbearable. It will be remembered as a time when Nature confronted Man, testing his spirit to the full.
My own hope is that the relevant governments will fulfill the promises they made by establishing early warning systems across this vulnerable region. There will be another tsunami but next time there need not be the same level of destruction and there needn’t be a single death.”