PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 19: (L–R) Sarah Brocklehurst, Saoirse Ronan, and Amy Liptrot attend the 2024 Sundance Film Festival “The Outrun” premiere at the Library Center Theatre on January 19, 2024, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)
By Lucy Spicer
In 2016, Amy Liptrot published a book called The Outrun that documented her recovery in the Orkney Islands in Scotland after having spent years in London at the mercy of alcohol and drug use. The book weaves together Liptrot’s thoughts, memories, and observations of the landscape and wildlife around her. And though the book is thought-provoking and resonant, it’s not an obvious choice for a film adaptation.
“When I first read Amy’s incredible book eight years ago — her writing is so poetic and so cinematic — even though it’s an incredibly difficult book to imagine as a film, I knew that the power of the place, the power of the healing would translate incredibly to a powerful, visionary audiovisual film,” says producer Sarah Brocklehurst at the January 19 post-premiere Q&A of The Outrun, which is screening as part of the Premieres section at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.
Everyone who signed onto the film adaptation of Liptrot’s memoir had to realize that the project would demand a great deal of respect. Director and co-writer Nora Fingscheidt was meticulous in her approach to creating the first draft of the screenplay. “I went into solitude with the book, and I color-coded every page,” says Fingscheidt. “And then I went through it again, and every bit that I wanted to be part of the film, I put on card piles, and I spent days arranging them.” Once her arrangement began to look like a film, she contacted Liptrot. “From there on, we collaborated very closely,” says Fingscheidt.
In the film adaptation of The Outrun, Sundance alum Saoirse Ronan stars as Rona, whose self-destructive London life is presented to us in flashbacks while present-day Rona attempts to maintain sobriety and find peace in more and more remote locations in the Orkney Islands. The film is a lyrical and visual journey, juxtaposing the chaos of addiction with Ronan’s voice-over narration describing the wild and harsh beauty of the terrain.
“It was such a gift for me to walk into a role where there’s kind of no rules, you know?” says Ronan of her experience playing Rona. “Because barriers completely break down when you’re that inebriated and under the influence. Your judgment is so clouded. Even if you’re not addicted to alcohol, the worst side of us can come out sometimes, or the best can, you know? There’s so much color within that.”
The range and depths of emotion required of the person portraying Rona are immense, not just for the London scenes, but also for the scenes in Orkney where her character must face the troubled childhood she experienced with an evangelical Christian mother and a father living with sometimes debilitating mental illness.
“I’ve been saying a lot that I think that this is a role that I mentally wouldn’t have been able to take on even, say, two years ago,” remarks Ronan. “There’s a lot of ugliness that comes out in the character, and she’s quite unlikable and quite mean at certain points and really wonderful and funny and kind at others. So to be able to just have access to all of that color is a complete joy as an actor.”
For Amy Liptrot, who also attended the premiere, seeing the darkest part of her life on screen brought forth a lot of emotions. “I wrote this book 10 years ago because I had to, but I never thought that it would get made into a film,” says Liptrot through tears. “Then filmmakers got interested, and I really liked the way that Sarah and Nora envisioned the film and Nora’s ideas for creating different elements of the book into the process.
“I’ve been sober for over 12 years now. My life’s completely different, you know? I’m here, but [the film] was about this really intense part of my life, back and forth, when it was a real struggle, and it was just raw, and I’m right back in that from watching it now — just to give hope to anyone out there that change is possible, and new and unexpected things can happen.”
To see more of the magic of the 2024 Festival, click here.