Marcus Markou’s indie feature, The Wife and Her House Husband (2022), clinched the Best Feature Film award at the 2022 British Urban Film Festival.

The British-Greek filmmaker talked to Neos Kosmos as he prepared to arrive in Melbourne to show his film at the British Film Festival.

Markou broke through in 2012 with Papadopoulos and Sons, a feel-good film about us – migrants, and children of migrants negotiating family, class, and cultures. It became a UK hit.

“It tapped into the Greek community as the first movie in Britain made a Hellenic Diaspora member, about an aspect of an experience in the UK.”

It also earned him a nomination for Breakthrough British Filmmaker by the London Critics Circle Awards.

A complete departure from ‘feel-good’

The Wife and Her House Husband, though, is a departure, the “other end of the spectrum; it’s bleak,” Markou admits. Cassie (Laura Bayston) and Matthew (Laurence Spellman) are going through a divorce and trying to do it amicably.

Cassie, in love and pain, finds a letter they wrote as young lovers. In it are instructions for the future if their marriage falls apart. Matthew needs help remembering the letter, but agrees reluctantly to participate. Instructions include meeting at the park, meeting for lunch, and involving themselves in sexual exploration. Dark Scandinavian textures meet ‘weird wave’ Greek cinema, in what Markou says is “an exploration of grief” and wanted to “invert the audience and challenge their expectations.”

“On the surface, we see things that shock us about their relationship, but I reveal the source of their grief.”It profoundly moved people, but it is not an easy film to watch.”

Marcus Markou and Laura Bayston on the set of The Wife and Her House husband. Photo: Supplied

Aware of the “economics of cinema” Markou made it on a “micro-budget” where an 11-day shoot became nine when COVID-19 hit.

Handheld and off-the-shoulder camera, shooting through one lens, provided “consistency of seeing this world through each character’s eyes; it is intimate.”

It was so intimate that Markou’s brother still can’t deal with the sex scene.

“He can’t process that sex scene, and that’s how I wanted it to go.”

The couple had a non-monogamous marriage, and one of the letter’s instructions is to meet in the sex club in which Cassie is a member.

As they rummage through the detritus of their marriage, he asks her if this was the club she had extramarital sex in. Nervous, she says ‘yes’ and adds that she also ‘travelled’ a lot.

Regretting her response, she adds, ‘I always checked in,’ and, ‘It takes a man of enormous self-worth’ to have agreed.

‘Or no self-worth,’ he replies. That threadbare conversation revealed a core truth: they both live in a world of trauma.

Later, Cassie “dominates her husband” in what is barely consensual sex.

“That scene wasn’t about lifestyle; it was about the trauma they’re trying to resolve. Trauma is the driver of addiction, and Cassie’s addiction is success.”

The Wife And Her House Husband at the British Film Festival Melbourne and Sydney. Photo: Supplied

A film through the woman’s gaze

“The story is from a woman’s perspective, and it resonated with many women.”

Cassie is “not in her house with her kids and husband; she’s in a hotel and a twelve-step programme.”

She is trying to deal with the collapse of her life, “watching the destruction of who she thought she was in the world,” Markou says.

“She had accepted that she had everything: the house, the car, the kids, a career – everything she could get – even a husband at home in the role of a ‘traditional’ of a ‘wife.’ ”

Markou has flipped traditional “gendered roles in a deliberate way.”

“The film isn’t about gender, nor the idea that she was ‘missing out’ by not fulfilling a traditional role; it is about having everything, while at the heart of it, it is about dealing with the traumas of the past. It is about all of us struggling with that idea that if you can’t achieve, your life is valueless.

Matthew resists Cassie’s search for a liminal past, a vision drafted by young lovers, and she is “struggling, in crisis.”

Matthew is East End working class, “Alpha (ish) male on the surface”, yet he is the house husband, and she’s the earner.

“Whenever we depict working-class people in England, it’s always through the idea that they’re struggling. I wanted to put a working-class couple on the screen that didn’t have financial problems, which is not a very British thing to do.”

Neo-liberal economics is about class ascent at a substantial cost to community, family, and other personal values. The Wife and Her House Husband are working-class people “playing in a middle-class territory”.

Winning the best feature at the British Urban Film Festival was important for Markou because the audience is “predominantly black working class”.

“A black working-class community embraced me, I’m not Afro-Caribbean, but I come from a non-Anglo ethnic background.”

The Wife And Her House Husband behind the scenes. Photo: Supplied

To redefine the victim

Markou’s latest film project “sits between Papadopoulos and Sons and The Wife and Her House Husband in terms of tonality.”It is about a Syrian refugee who is being “mercilessly bullied” in 2016 at the height of the refugee crisis.

His tormentor, a white Northerner, “looks like a classic racist, but it is more complex.”

The storyline is based on his short film, Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times, which garnered three million views on YouTube.

A bullying incident goes viral on social media, and a court case ensues, but the Syrian refuses to speak.

Markou avoids the ‘white’ bourgeoise narrative of constructing the refugee as a victim.

The refugee here is “the trickster, not the victim, he becomes a catalyst of change – the film explores the politics we’re all living through now.”

Markou also secured “a famous actor” to play in it, but won’t divulge the name.

“They were amazingly generous, and it was enough to attract a producer and the interest of streamers.”

The “economics of cinema” are always at the core for independent filmmakers like Marcus Markou, who creates a realistic yet nuanced narrative for our times.

Marcus Markou will be in Melbourne on November 14 and 15 for selected sessions of The Wife and Her House Husband, co-presented by the British Film Festival and the Greek Community of Melbourne.