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Pieter Verhoeff • Director

The Letter for the King: “A grown-up children’s film”

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- The Letter for the King Dutch release July 16

Pieter Verhoeff • Director

The Letter for the King, the youth novel by Tonke Dragt, was recently voted the best Dutch youth novel of the past fifty years. Director Pieter Verhoeff (Nynke) has now directed a film adaptation. The Letter for the King is set in a mythical medieval Europe, where a 16-year-old page, Tiuri (Yannick van de Velde), is asked to deliver an important letter to the king of a neighbouring reign. Together with Piak (Quinten Schram), a companion one year his junior, he treks through the mountains, hoping to avoid the red riders.

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Cineuropa: The Letter for the King is described as a family film. What is its appeal, and do you think there are different things that appeal to children and adults?
Pieter Verhoeff: I’ve made a film that very much follows the story that already existed [in the novel]. I know that it has remained a popular book since its publication [in 1958], and I’ve tried, if not exactly to copy the book – it is much too long to be filmed in its entirety – but at least to recreate the atmosphere that made it so special. Children respond very well to the adventure aspects of the story, but I’m not sure why adults also like it. A part of it is probably because they remember the novel from when they were younger, and they also seem to like the balance of action scenes and quieter moments. It is actually sort of a grown-up children’s film.

The two young protagonists, Yannick van de Velde and Quinten Schram, are played by actors that come from “ film families”. A coincidence?
Yannick’s father, director Jean van de Velde, is a close friend of mine and I had seen Yannick in In Orange several years ago. But he has grown a lot since, both in height and technique. His acting is not intuitive anymore; he has to be able to hold his own with some of the best actors from Europe! I had not seen Quinten’s previous work (including two hugely successful Peter Bell adaptations), but at the auditions I saw this kid with funny hair and huge eyes, and thought: that is Piak! The fact that both had already been in front of the camera was a great help, but really I just wanted to have the person for each role.

The film was finished only one week before its premiere. Didn’t that stress you out or compromise the film in any way?
I am not stressed that easily. When I am working, I am very concentrated on what I’m doing and I don’t rush things. Because of the complicated post-production, we worked long hours towards the end. The coordination of sound, sword-fighting sequences and music took up a lot of time.

The film is co-production with Germany and features Germans among the cast (Rüdiger Vogler, Uwe Ochsenknecht) and crew. How was that collaboration?
We got some of the best German actors. They actually spoke their lines in phonetic Dutch, which was quite difficult for the actors since they had to remember their lines in a language they didn’t speak and handle the emotions at the same time. They were later dubbed by Dutch actors because of their accents. The film will be released in Germany on October 30.

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