Search form

Keep it in Motion - Classic Animation Revisited: 'The Queen's Monastery'

Every Thursday, Chris Robinson takes a look at films from animation’s past. Today: The Queen's Monastery (1998).

Here’s another stellar work out of the UK. This time from Emma Calder. Inspired by Leoš Janáček’s piece, The Sinfonietta, The Queen’s Monastery is an impressive tale of love, war, regret, guilt, transformation. Hell, it’s a six-minute animated mini-opera and technical tour-de-force. The use of watercolours is an inspired choice that nicely reflects themes of fragility, change, and memory (for this is all taking place inside the woman’s mind). Calder’s vivid palette creates an inspired emotional fireworks show that captures the sense of loss the woman feels along with the blurry haze that is memory.

On her website, Calder has written a series of posts about the making of the film. Here’s an excerpt about how Janáček’s music and life inspired the story:

I started to research Janáček’s life and The Sinfonietta. My findings were remarkable. The title of the movement I had chosen to script. Was in fact The Queen’s Monastery, Janáček had grown up in a monastery in Brno. All my other ideas fitted too. Janáček had been commissioned at the end of the first world war, to write the music for a festival of gymnastics, to be held in Brno town square. The work was dedicated to the Czech armed forces and was a tribute to the town of Brno, now free from the yoke of German authority. Janáček’s best music was written in the last twenty years of his life after he fell obsessively in Love with a Kamila Stösslová 40 years his junior, whom it appears did not succumb to his passions. He also wrote the music while sitting with her in Brno Town Square and used monkey noises for inspiration for some elements of his very complex composition. Which was played by a 101 piece orchestra.

The combination of Janáček’s obsessive fantasies and my central characters own fantasies. The fact that my imaginings of all the locations were so accurate in relationship to the music, helped me develop my story even further. It was so exciting to have been able to see so clearly what Janáček had in his mind when writing the music and how it had led to my own story’s creation.

I used dribly watercolours of soldiers and acrobats to present the design ideas. Developed the themes about love and war. Researched Czechoslovakia’s involvement in the first world war, went to the Imperial War Museum to study footage of soldiers etc.

Chris Robinson's picture

A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.