Barry Kirk, a 64-year-old man living in a small town in South Wales has made a bit of a name for himself over the years. It all began in 1986 when he sat in a bath of baked beans for over 100 hours, setting the world record. The experience led to a decision: to take the humble tin of beans and use it as the basis for an alternate reality. He created an alter ego called Captain Beany and turned his council flat into The Baked Bean Museum of Excellence and has since been featured on programmes like Britain’s Weirdest Council Houses and in many a photography series.
Sophie Perrins, a freelance documentary producer had known Captain Beany for several years as she has family in his local area. So when Sophie won a commission from Channel 4’s Random Acts via a live pitch at Edinburgh TV Festival, she set out to create a film about Barry which “wouldn’t poke fun at him or his alter ego,” unlike some of the other attention he had received.
Captain Beany is Sophie’s first film as a director but her career to date as a producer has already been an impressive one. “I want to make films about things I really care about, so I go for the hardest hitting, but arguably the most important subject matters,” she tells us. So far, this has seen her filming inside American prisons with white suprematist gang members, working with victims and perpetrators of sex crimes, and with teenagers struggling with poverty and the demands of their GCSEs in the UK, for films for the BBC and Channel 4. Currently, Sophie is working at Raw – a company best known for The Imposter and Three Identical Strangers – producing a documentary for BBC 2.
Aesthetically, Sophie took the opportunity to move away from “straight documentaries”, aiming instead for a considered colour palette and art-directed visuals. In turn, the documentary – which was produced by Griff Lynch, features Ryan Eddleston as its DOP and was edited by Ben Melbourne – retains an experimental feel as it follows a day in the life of Captain Beany.
Sophie tells us more about the narrative she wanted to portray: “As a shy kid growing up on a Port Talbot estate, Barry says he always felt that he was searching for an identity, that he didn’t feel like he fit in. He created Captain Beany at a time that life was pretty tough for him and he says that for a while, the Captain Beany persona became his escape… Although not everyone goes so far as creating themselves an alter ego, I think this is a feeling that a lot of people can identify with.
“I wanted to illustrate that by making the audience unsure if the film was a depiction of a real person, or something completely made up. I wanted the film to feel both real and completely constructed, juxtaposing reality and fiction – the reality of Captain Beany’s voiceover with the constructed and art directed visuals to create something where an audience might not be quite sure what genre they are watching.”
While, of course, Barry’s character is larger-than-life and fun, there’s a degree of seniority to what he does. “Today, Barry is a local personality who does a lot of charity fundraising and community work in Port Talbot,” Sophie adds. Captain Beany, therefore, allows viewers to see behind the mask somewhat, juxtaposing the always jovial depiction of Captain Beany thus far. To aid in this authenticity, the voiceover is taken from several hours of conversation between Sophie and Barry. “I wanted the voiceover to be his genuine thoughts and feelings, not things that I had scripted for him. With this in mind, I encouraged Captain Beany not to feel the need to act up to his persona on camera but take the opportunity to be Barry whilst in the Captain Beany costume – again juxtaposing his made-up persona and him in his normal life,” the director continues.
Finally, Sophie channels the quintessentially British baked bean in myriad aspects of the film. This is shown through the film’s locations – council estates, local cafes and supermarkets – and through the overall tone of the film which embodies a recognisable language for anyone who grew up in the UK.
Ultimately, Captain Beany is an endearing and touching film about one man and his story. Through an intimate voiceover and juxtaposing visuals, it takes Barry’s life and his persona and merges them, investigating what exactly would make someone want to dedicate their life to baked beans. However, in some ways, it’s also an investigation of the masks that a lot of people choose to adopt as a form of escapism or conceal something about themselves, even if they aren’t bright orange.
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