Lynne Ramsay

Lynne Ramsay (born 5 December 1969) is a Scottish film director, writer, producer, and cinematographer best known for the feature films Ratcatcher (1999), Morvern Callar (2002), We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), and You Were Never Really Here (2017).

Lynne Ramsay
Ramsay at Cannes, 2013
Born (1969-12-05) 5 December 1969
Glasgow, Scotland
Alma materNapier College
National Film and Television School
  • Film director
  • screenwriter
  • cinematographer
Years active1995–present

Her films are marked by a fascination with children and young people and the recurring themes of grief, guilt, death, and its aftermath. They are low on dialogue and explicit story exposition, and instead use images, vivid details, music, and sound design to create their worlds. In April 2013 she was selected as a member of the main competition jury at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.[1] In 2015, she was named as a member of the jury for the main competition at the 2015 Venice Film Festival.

Early life and education

Born in Glasgow on 5 December 1969, Ramsay studied photography at Napier College, Edinburgh. In 1995, she graduated from the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, England, where she specialised in cinematography and direction.


Ramsay took a break between Black and White Town and We Need to Talk About Kevin, explaining she thinks the filmmaking process is different for her and other writer-directors from directors who do not write their own material. The Harvard Film Archive welcomed Lynne Ramsay for a showcase of her films, including the three acclaimed shorts that inaugurated her career.[2]

She experienced great frustration in her involvement with The Lovely Bones, during which personal and professional problems saw her lose the job of directing to Peter Jackson, whose version of the film received largely negative reviews. She stated in an interview: "People started to call it 'The Lovely Money,' they were getting greedy around it. And I could feel the vibes. It became like the Holy Bible, I kept handing in drafts and I thought they were good, but it was like 'But that's not exactly like the book, the book's going to be a success.' That was the mistake they made with the project." She stated additionally that she considered Jackson's interpretation of the film, with a desire to stick as closely as possible to the original story, was partially responsible for what she considered the lacklustre quality of the finished product.[3]

Short films

Ramsay won the 1996 Cannes Prix de Jury for her graduation short film, "Small Deaths". Her second short film, "Kill the Day", won the Clermont Ferrand Prix du Jury; her third, "Gasman", won her another Cannes Prix du Jury in addition to a Scottish BAFTA for Best Short Film.

"Small Deaths" (1996) is Ramsay's debut short film that she completed as her graduating film at the UK's National Film and Television School. It is a series of three vignettes of children grappling with familial realities and the repercussions of their actions. Ramsay is the writer, director and cinematographer for this film.[4]

"Kill the Day" (1997), written and directed by Ramsay, captures a day in the life of a heroin addict recently released from jail, and in the process inventively probes the inner workings of memory.

"Gasman" (1997), also written and directed by Ramsay, is about a brother and sister who attend a Christmas party with their dad, and encounter two other children who are strangely familiar with him.

"Swimmer" (2012) was co-commissioned by BBC Films, Film4 and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The short was nominated for the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) in the category for Best Short Film. It won a BAFTA Award for Best Short Film at the 66th British Academy Film Awards in 2013.[5]

Feature films

Ratcatcher (1999), Ramsay's debut feature, won critical acclaim and numerous awards. It was screened at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival[6] and opened the Edinburgh International Film Festival, winning her the Guardian New Directors prize. She also won the Carl Foreman Award for Newcomer in British Film at the 2000 BAFTA Awards, the Sutherland Trophy at the London Film Festival and the Silver Hugo for Best Director at the Chicago International Film Festival.

Morvern Callar (2002) won Samantha Morton the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress, and Kathleen McDermott the Scottish BAFTA Award for Best Actress. It also won the 2002 C.I.C.A.E. Award and the Award of The Youth at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. The motion picture soundtrack includes tracks from Stereolab, Aphex Twin, Broadcast, Velvet Underground, and Nancy Sinatra. Ramsay is credited as the writer and director. The film is based on Alan Warner's 1995 novel of the same name, Morvern Callar. It was featured in the Directors Fortnight for the Cannes Film Festival 2002 and then went on to open the Edinburgh International Film Festival in August of the same year. The film also featured at the Telluride, Toronto, San Sebastian, Dinard and Stockholm Film Festivals of 2002. It was nominated for seven British Independent Film Awards.

Ramsay was slated to direct the adaptation of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, which she had read in manuscript form prior to its publication. She left the project in early 2004 after the novel had become a bestseller and the producers wanted a version more faithful to the original than she had been planning.[7]

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) was Ramsay's next feature-length film in which she was the writer, producer and director. The film, based on Lionel Shriver's novel, is about a mother dealing with the aftermath of a school massacre committed by her son. Budgetary difficulties held the production up, but after several script drafts, the film, which employed a fragmented, elliptical narrative and starred Tilda Swinton as the tormented mother, premiered in 2011 to great acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival.[8] Ramsay went on to receive a BAFTA nomination for Best Director as well as taking the Best Director prize at the British Independent Film Awards, and a win for Best Film Screenplay at the Writer's Guild of Great Britain.

In 2013, Ramsay was slated to direct Jane Got a Gun. Natalie Portman signed on to star and produce the film as the farmer wife of an outlaw husband, who, after his gang turns on him, she must defend with the help of an old lover. In March 2013 Ramsay left the project due to creative differences with producers[9]and funders, including over the latter's demand for a happy ending.[10] She was replaced by Gavin O'Connor.[11] Actor Jude Law also left the production shortly after.[12]

Lynne Ramsay is scheduled to direct a modern adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. She has stated that the film will be set in space, and deal with themes of psychology and claustrophobia, quoting "So we're creating a whole new world, and a new alien. [It's] a very psychological piece, mainly taking place in the ship, a bit like Das Boot, so it's quite claustrophobic. It's another monster movie, cos the monster's Ahab."[13]

Ramsay directed You Were Never Really Here, an adaptation of Jonathan Ames's novella of the same name. It premiered to wide critical acclaim in competition at the 70th Cannes Film Festival in 2017, where it received a seven-minute standing ovation, and Ramsay won the Best Screenplay award. The film, starring Joaquin Phoenix, was released by Amazon Studios.[14]

Music promos

Ramsay directed the promotional video for the Manchester-based indie-rock band Doves' single "Black and White Town", which was released on 7 February 2005. However, Ramsay's version was re-edited and the released version was significantly different from her original piece.[15]

Praise and criticism

In 2007 Ramsay was rated number 12 in Guardian Unlimited's list of the world's 40 best directors working at that time.[16]

Sean O'Hagan wrote in The Guardian that "Ramsay is entertaining company, whether talking about the art films she loves —by Bergman, Cassavetes, Fassbinder— or railing against the 'bullshitters and backstabbers' of the film industry."[17]

The Harvard Film Archive describes Ramsay as "an uncompromising filmmaker fascinated by the tremendous power of cinema to appeal directly to the senses and awaken new depths in our audio-visual imagination. Immersive and at times almost overwhelming, Ramsay's films abound with uncommon imagery arresting for its remarkable use of texture, composition, color, music and sound."[18]

In her The New York Times biography, Ramsay's work is described as having a "gritty, realistic visual style that demands attention."

Tilda Swinton, whom Ramsey directed in We Need To Talk About Kevin, called her "the real McCoy", saying, "She is one of those rare directors who creates the kind of films that just would not be there if she didn't make them."[17]

British film critic Jonathan Romney, when speaking on We Need To Talk About Kevin, opined "Ramsay, thinks not in concepts but in images. She doesn't make intellectual films, but ones that are close to music, taking visuals to the point of abstraction."[19]

Los Angeles Times columnist Mark Olsen considered Ramsay "one of the leading lights of young British cinema", describing her additionally as "among the most celebrated British filmmakers of her generation."[20]

Personal life

Ramsay has one daughter.[10]


On 8 October 2013, Ramsay was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Edinburgh for her contribution to British film.[21]


Year Title Role Notes
Director Writer Producer Cinematographer
1996 Small Deaths Yes Yes No Yes Short film
Jury Prize Short film (Cannes Film Festival)
Sweet Heart No No No Yes Short film
1997 Kill the Day Yes Yes No No Short film
Gasman Yes Yes No No Short film
Atlantic Film Festival Best Short film
BAFTA Scotland Award for Best Short Film
Jury Prize Short film (Cannes Film Festival)
Chicago International Film Festival Best Short film
Locarno International Film Festival Best Short film
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Short Film
One Eye No No No Yes Short film
1999 Ratcatcher Yes Yes No No BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer
BIFA Award for Best Debut Director
Chicago International Film Festival Silver Hugo Directing Award
Edinburgh International Film Festival New Director's Award
London Critics Circle Film Award for British Director of the Year
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Outstanding British Film
Nominated—BIFA Award for Best Screenplay
2002 Morvern Callar Yes Yes No No Cannes Film Festival Award of the Youth
Los Angeles Film Critics Association New Generation Award
Nominated—BIFA Award for Best Director
Nominated—BIFA Award for Best Screenplay
2005 Black and White Town Yes No No No Music video
2011 We Need to Talk About Kevin Yes Yes Executive No BFI London Film Festival Best Film Award
BIFA Award for Best Director
Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Film
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Russell Smith Award
Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award for Best Film Screenplay
Nominated—AACTA International Award for Best Direction
Nominated—AACTA International Award for Best Screenplay
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Outstanding British Film
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Direction
Nominated—BIFA Award for Best Screenplay
Nominated—Bodil Award for Best American Film
Nominated—London Film Critics' Circle Award for Director of the Year
Nominated—Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominated—Palme d'Or
2012 Swimmer Yes No Executive No Short film
BAFTA Award for Best Short Film
2017 You Were Never Really Here Yes Yes Yes No Best Screenplay Award (Cannes Film Festival)
Noir Film Festival Special Jury Award
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Outstanding British Film
Nominated—BIFA Award for Best British Independent Film
Nominated—BIFA Award for Best Director
Nominated—Independent Spirit Award for Best Film
Nominated—Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
2019 Brigitte Yes Yes Yes No Documentary short film

See also


  1. Saperstein, Pat (23 April 2013). "Nicole Kidman, Christopher Waltz, Ang Lee Among Cannes Jury Members". Variety. Reed Business Information. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
  2. "Harvard Film Archive." (Retrieved 5 May 2012)
  3. Lyttelton, Oliver (14 September 2012). "Lynne Ramsay Talks Her Version Of 'The Lovely Bones,' Tilda Swinton Says More Adventures Are Coming". Indiewire. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
  4. "Double Feature: Lynne Ramsay Early Shorts and Ratcatcher." (Retrieved 5 May 2012)
  5. "BAFTAs 2013: Complete List Of Winners From This Year's BAFTA Awards".
  6. "Festival de Cannes: Ratcatcher". Retrieved 10 October 2009.
  7. Kois, Dan (13 January 2012). "Lynne Ramsay Is Back. Finally". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  8. "Screen Online: Lynne, Ramsay". "BFI Screen Online" (Retrieved: 5 May 2012)
  9. Fleming, Mike. "Director Lynne Ramsay Bails Out Of 'Jane Got A Guy' Movie On First Day". Retrieved 2013-05-15.
  10. Sawyer, Miranda (25 February 2018). "Director Lynne Ramsay: 'I've got a reputation for being difficult – it's bullshit'" via
  11. Fleming, Mike (2013-03-20). "Gavin O'Connor Replaces AWOL Director Lynne Ramsay On 'Jane Got A Gun'". Retrieved 2013-05-15.
  12. Fleming, Mike. "Jude Law Latest To Depart Troubled 'Jane Got A Gun' Movie". Retrieved 2013-05-15.
  13. Child, Ben (25 October 2011). "Lynne Ramsay to steer Moby-Dick into outer space". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  14. Setoodeh, Elsa Keslassy,Ramin (2016-05-13). "Cannes: Amazon Sweeps in To Buy Joaquin Phoenix's 'You Were Never Really Here'". Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  15. "MUSC VIDEOS: Lynne Ramsay — Doves: "Black and White Town" Archived 2010-04-20 at the Wayback Machine (Retrieved: 6 July 2009)
  16. "Film Features: The world's 40 best directors… 12. Lynne Ramsay" (Retrieved: 6 July 2009)
  17. O'Hagan, Sean (1 October 2011). "Lynne Ramsay: 'Just talk to me straight'". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  18. "Lynne Ramsay and the Senses of Cinema". Harvard Film Archive. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  19. Romney, Jonathan (23 October 2011). "We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsay, 112 mins (15)". The Independent. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  20. Olsen, Mark (5 January 2012). "Indie Focus: Lynne Ramsay talks about 'Kevin'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 8 June 2012.
  21. "A celebration of achievement". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 2018-05-12.
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