Havel fulfills 'lifelong dream', begins directing film version of stage play Leaving

Václav Havel, photo: CTK

The former president Václav Havel has begun directing a film adaptation of his latest play, Leaving. The play, which premiered in 2008, deals with a politician's painful adjustment to a new life after retiring from politics. The 73-year-old playwright led his country for 13 years, but since his own political retirement has returned to stage work – and is now making his debut in film.

Václav Havel,  photo: CTK
The original stage version of Leaving, which premiered at Prague’a Archa Theatre, was a witty and poignant study on the theme of loss of power, with nods to Shakespeare’s King Lear and Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. It features the former chancellor of an unnamed country, Vilém Rieger, unceremoniously booted out of his sumptuous government villa and fighting constant battles with his nemesis, former deputy Vlastík Klein.

Many were quick to see strong autobiographical elements; Vlastík Klein seems to be a thinly-disguised caricature of Mr Havel’s real-life nemesis – and successor as president - Václav Klaus. But Václav Havel says two thirds of the play was actually written before 1989, when his career as a playwright was suddenly interrupted – he says he merely augmented it with his own experiences. As he told journalists at the premiere, the theme of loss of power was one that interested him long before he himself experienced it first hand.

"What I was interested in was why, when someone loses power, that person can also lose the meaning of life. Why does power have such strange charisma for some people that its loss means the collapse of that person's world?"

The first shooting day of Leaving in Česká Skalice,  photo: CTK
Following the play’s success in both Prague and abroad, Václav Havel will now spend most of the summer in the north-eastern town of Česká Skalice, near the Polish border, directing a feature film adaptation with a star cast that includes his actress wife Dagmar. Mr Havel famously insisted on moving the play from the National Theatre after they declined to cast Dagmar Havlová in the role of Vilém Rieger’s wife, Irenka. She was later unable to perform in the stage role for other reasons.

For Václav Havel it’s the fulfilment of a lifelong dream; he says he always wanted to be a film director. That will come as little surprise as Czech film is closely associated with the Havel name. His beloved uncle Miloš founded Prague’s hugely successful Barrandov studios, while in 1908 his grandfather Vácslav built the capital’s magnificent art deco Lucerna complex, which housed the first permanent cinema in Czechoslovakia.