Tom Edmunds on Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back): 'I was conscious of not wanting to make a generic British gangster film'

Tom Edmunds on Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back): 'I was conscious of not wanting to make a generic British gangster film'

Freya Mavor and Tom Edmunds

We speak to debut writer-director Edmunds and co-star Freya Mavor about Tom Wilkinson's very British hitman and the importance of striking the perfect tone

Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back) is a British black comedy about an ageing hitman and his suicidal victim that recalls the work of the Coen Brothers. The debut feature from writer-director Tom Edmunds stars Aneurin Barnard (Dunkirk) as William, a depressed young writer who's so bad at killing himself that he decides to outsource the job to a professional assassin. Enter Leslie (Tom Wilkinson), a hitman who's facing retirement if he doesn't meet the strict quota set by his sweary boss (Christopher Eccleston) at the British Guild of Assassins. Both men seem to have found the perfect solution to their problems, until a publisher (Freya Mavor) shows interest in William's book and he realises that maybe he wants to live after all.

The film began life as two separate ideas, explains Edmunds: 'I had an idea about an assassin who only killed people who wanted to die. I told my producer, "I'm not quite sure what the story is, but I've got this idea for a character", and he said, "That's funny, because I've been thinking of someone who wants to kill themselves, but keeps messing it up", and we realised we were flirting around the same area, from different directions.'

Hitman comedies tend to stand or fall on the likeability of the lead actor, so Wilkinson's casting was crucial. 'If Tom Wilkinson leans across the table and says "I'm going to kill you", he can really make that very believable', says Edmunds. 'The character has this dual nature; the professional where he's this cold hearted killer and capable of acts of real violence, but juxtaposed with this very sweet domestic life. And what's great about Tom is that he's also got that warmth, so his ability to do both was absolutely key.'

Throughout the film, Edmunds nails a uniquely British comic tone, where everyone is unfailingly polite and courteous to each other, even amidst acts of shocking violence. Given the darkness of the film's subject matter, it was essential to get the tone right. 'I was conscious of not wanting to make a generic British gangster film', says Edmunds. 'I wanted to do something a bit different. And it's not necessarily just the politeness, it's that juxtaposition of the extreme with the banal that, say, the Coen Brothers do so well. I'm also quite an optimistic person, so I wanted to make something that starts in a dark place but is actually quite positive and life affirming, and I think the politeness and the domesticity helps with that.'

For co-star Freya Mavor, striking the right tone was also of utmost importance, especially given the issues touched upon in the film. 'The hardest thing is juggling that line,' she says, 'when you're dealing with something that's very serious, yet you're approaching it with lightness – just knowing how to nuance that in the acting and knowing how to deal with that subject matter whilst being tasteful and respectful. I think that comes through in Tom's writing and in the performances and the fact that it's raising an issue, in a comic way, but it's also bringing general attention to something that's important, so hopefully it brings up conversations about mental health and things like the rates of male suicides.'

General release from Fri 16 Nov.

Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back)

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • UK
  • 15
  • Directed by: Tom Edmunds
  • Cast: Christopher Eccleston, Aneurin Barnard, Tom Wilkinson, Freya Mavor
  • UK release: 16 November 2018

William (Barnard) is a suicidal young man who’s so bad at killing himself that he hires ageing hitman Leslie (Wilkinson) to do it for him—but then he meets Ellie (Mavor), an editor who wants to publish his book. Edmunds strikes a delightfully unique tone and it's unexpectedly touching, taking its premise seriously. An…