HE TREATED James Bond for stress and was feted by The Beatles. Now a long-awaited movie charting the life and career of 60s counter-culture psychiatrist RD Laing is to have its world premiere at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival (GFF).
Mad To Be Normal, by director and Laing biographer Robert Mullan, stars David Tennant in the role of the man dubbed “the high priest of anti-psychiatry” who challenged the orthodoxy, wrote a best-seller at 28, fathered 10 children and died at the age of 61.
Robert Carlyle had once been linked to the part, with Mullan saying his “mixture of charm, sharp intelligence, sexiness, vulnerability and utter malevolence” was suited to the role.
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However, Tennant’s casting was announced last year, when he said he had “long been fascinated” with the Glasgow radical, and the one-time Dr Who will appear alongside Michael Gambon, Gabriel Byrne and Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss.
Both Mullan and Tennant are set to attend the closing gala screening on Sunday, February 26, with other cast members expected to follow.
Born in the city’s Govanhill district, Laing published his influential work The Divided Self in 1960, going on to challenge the use of anti-psychotic drugs and advocate for community-based treatments, even setting up a “haven” for mental health patients in London without locks on the doors or strong medications.
The Beatles were amongst his fans and Diane Cilento, Sean Connery’s first wife, alleged in her 2006 autobiography that he had given the actor LSD for stress while Connery filmed Goldfinger, a claim repeated by Irish novelist Edna O’Brien in her book Country Girl six years later.
However, Connery has never commented on the claim.
News of the premiere was announced today by GFF co-director Allison Gardner, who named coming-of-age tale Handsome Devil as the choice for the opening gala on Wednesday, February 15. Set in an Irish all-boys boarding school, the film stars Sherlock villain Andrew Scott as an inspirational teacher who forms an unlikely friendship with 16-year-old pupil Ned.
Gardner said: “I am so excited to share the news about our great opening and closing galas. Handsome Devil is a real crowd pleaser with a joyous spirit that makes it a perfect film to launch the festival. David Tennant gives an absolutely stunning performance as RD Laing in Mad To Be Normal and it seems only fitting that Glasgow should have the honour of hosting the premiere of a film about one of the city’s most complex, charismatic figures.”
The full programme will be announced within a fortnight, but will feature the Scottish premiere of The Seasons In Quincy: Four Portraits Of John Berger.
The Booker prize-winning novelist died on Monday, and the film is the result of a five-year project involving Tilda Swinton, writer Colin MacCabe and film editor Christopher Roth in collaboration with the composer Simon Fisher Turner.
The work is made up of four “essay films” tackling different aspects of Berger’s life in the French mountains.
Now in its 13th year, the GFF has previously welcomed actors including Richard Gere, Saoirse Ronan, Richard Dreyfuss and Gemma Arterton. Writer Armando Iannucci has also attended, as has director Joss Whedon.
Last year, more than 42,000 admissions were logged throughout the festival, making it the third largest event of its kind in the UK.
Glasgow City Council leader Frank McAveety said: “Glasgow Film Festival is a highlight on the city’s cultural calendar. The opening gala is always an exciting event, heralding the beginning of 11 packed days of film in the UK’s cinema city. It’s particularly great to see that a famous Glaswegian will be depicted on screen for this year’s closing gala film.
“I’ll look forward to seeing the full programme, which I’m sure will be equally inspiring and inventive, once revealed later this month.”
RD Laing’s works on mental health and identity made him one of the most influential figures of the 60s.
The complex life of RD Laing
He rejected the conventional understanding of “madness,” advocated empathetic treatments and argued that mental illness could be caused by dysfunctional parenting.
His work made him internationally famous and won him frequent appearances on TV, also garnering celebrity followers.
However, by the time of his death in 1989, caused by a heart attack while playing tennis, the father-of-10 had been forced to withdraw his name from the General Medical Council’s register following allegations of assault and drunkenness made by a patient, who later retracted the claims.
And while his drug-free Kingsley Hall facility in London sought a new way to treat mental illness, two people jumped from the roof and the site was raided by the drug squad.
Despite Laing’s emphasis of the impact of parenting on wellbeing, he is said to have had little to do with the children from his first marriage after leaving, with son Adrian alleging in a 1994 book that Laing beat his sister during one visit to their Glasgow home.
Laing’s second eldest child Fiona was hospitalised following a nervous breakdown in 1975, a year after another daughter Susan died from leukaemia.
Adrian claimed Laing defied family wishes and told Susan her condition was terminal, also dismissing calls for advice about Fiona’s condition, despite his expertise.
Laing was also known to be cruel in later life, when he became further dependent on alcohol and drugs.
Announcing the gala premiere, the GFF said: “Mad To Be Normal offers a powerful account of Laing’s Kingsley Hall experiment with a stunning performance from David Tennant that really gets under the skin of an utterly compelling figure.
“The film also captures the darker side of a mercurial man who rarely made it easy for those who dared to get close to him, especially his lover Angie.”