By Stephen M. Silverman And Chris Skidmore
November 13, 2002 11:00 AM

Facing down about 600 university students inside England’s Oxford Union debating chamber, movie director Guy Ritchie proved to be a popular guest on Tuesday night, PEOPLE’s London Bureau reports.

As might have been expected, a good many questions concerned his wife, Madonna, 44, and their movie “Swept Away,” which recently washed ashore in America and tanked so badly that it’s going straight to video in Ritchie’s native Britain.

“It’s not being released (over here) because it’s sh–,” Ritchie, 34, told the students. “I can’t answer more eloquently than that.”

He said, “The idea was that the wife and I would make some sassy little art movie, but we got the sh– kicked out of us. It broke records in America. It must be the first film to make front page news with a review.”

By Ritchie’s reckoning, “I think 21 papers in America ran on how appalling it was, and we had the absolute feces kicked out of us. But I’ve got to say, it’s a good film. I’m still left shaking my head … make (up) your own minds about it.”

Once the floor was opened to other questions, Ritchie, sometimes going for a laugh (which he received), answered quite candidly. Among the queries:

What do you call your wife at home? “Bitch.”

Does your wife’s history bother you at all? “It doesn’t. It used to, but it doesn’t anymore.”

Does your wife sing in the shower? “Yes.”

Do you like your wife’s music? “Was I a Madonna fan? No. Am I a Madonna fan? Yes. I mean that genuinely.”

How did you and Madonna first meet? “It’s actually quite a boring answer. We met at lunch. She was with her boyfriend, and he was sulking, and they were a few seats down in the restaurant from where I was sitting, and I thought, ‘F—ing hell, it’s Madonna’. So I went up to her and made crap jokes. I think I said, ‘If you play your cards right, I’ll put you in a movie’. She thought I was cocky and things went from there.

What’s Madonna’s favorite film? “She likes musicals. ‘The Sound of Music.’ ”

And, describing their home life, Ritchie said: “My wife has a mind of her own. I like to think I have some way of influencing her, but that could be an illusion.”

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