“British filmmakers should resist being homogenized by US streamers,” says Carol Morley – Screen International | Episode Movies

“It’s not a movie about mental illness; It is a film about world perception and reconciliation.”

This is how the British director Carol Morley describes it Typist Artist Pirate KingPremiering this month in the Critics’ Picks section of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, Morley’s fourth feature film stars Monica Dolan as Audrey Amiss, a British artist who has spent much of her life in psychiatric treatment and her work has been rediscovered since her death in 2013. Filmed in the north of England in late 2021, the film follows Amiss on a road trip with her psychiatric nurse Sandra – played by Kelly Macdonald – as the two women search for closure.

With a cast that included Gina McKee, the film was produced by Cairo Cannon, Morley’s partner at Cannon and Morley Productions Screen Star of Tomorrow 2018 Ameenah Ayub Allen. The British distribution company Metro International Entertainment represents worldwide rights.

Screen sat down with Morley in Tallinn following the world premiere to discuss Amiss’s unique character, the struggle to create a body of work, and Morley’s next projects.

How did you discover Audrey Amiss?
I was awarded a Wellcome Screenwriting Fellowship – first year it was Jonathan Glazer, then Clio Barnard, then I got it. It was very much about research, not results, but I was eager to find something that could trigger a movie. Gillian Scothern, a woman who was involved, said: “If you’re looking for first-person accounts, we have donated scrapbooks where someone has collected the wrappers of everything they’ve ever eaten.” The archivist said, “This is Audrey Amiss.” They sent up a couple of boxes from deep storage and gave me a room for two hours; I was there all day.

I admired her collection of packaging and the way she presented them on the site, but also the lyrics that accompanied them gave a great insight into the way her mind worked. In her passport, which was canceled in the 1980s, she had to enter her profession and wrote “Typist Artist Pirate King”.

What about her life seemed fit for a movie?
She compared herself to Don Quixote – “I’m a little crazy, but there’s a method to my madness.” For me, the idea with her diaries and paintings was about how she saw the world. After discovering them, I really wanted to make a film that wasn’t about looking at mental illness from the outside, but rather adopting their view of the world. She had these diagnoses – which she denied. It was very important to me that she had these diagnoses that defined them because they do in our society, but they weren’t necessarily what she believed.

How did you develop the project?
[The original discovery] was six years ago, then it took a year to write. I’ve tried different spellings. My first draft was very experimental. Someone said, “You’re never going to fund this,” so that was the end. The road trip felt right because Audrey loved to travel. Then she travels with her community psychiatric nurse – it could become about the conversation between psychiatrist and psychiatric patient. I’ve done a lot of research on psychiatric nurses and psychiatrists and they are very conflicting about what they are supposed to do. One psychiatrist said when he started he was very idealistic; then he realized that his job for the government was to separate people. It’s becoming a medication route very quickly.

How did Jane Campion come on board as executive producer?
For the film program on BBC Radio 4 I had to choose a film that I could talk about that really inspired me and I chose it [Campion’s 1989 comedy] baby. The presenters then said “we have a call for you from Berlin” – Jane came and said “Carol, you are my hero!” I actually cried on the radio – making films is such a struggle so it’s very special when you get this confirmation from your hero.

This film was an absolute struggle for funding; We developed it with the BFI and the BBC, then the BBC didn’t take it to production and the BFI turned it down [the Film Fund later backed it with production funding]. We reached the end of the road to getting money for the film; So I sent the footage to Jane – she was editing The power of the dog – and she wrote back that she would be executive producer. It shifted towards more visibility.

Is it harder for British independent filmmakers to break out now than it was when you started your career?
There are more women making films – definitely more debut films by women, which is fantastic. You just hope they do their second, third feature film if they want – it’s very difficult to do a complete work.

There are so many brilliant British filmmakers – a real energy and way of telling these stories. They don’t want them to be homogenized the American way. With the advent of streamers, there is a “template” for how you make your film, how many locations you can have, how many people you can have in the film, what kind of shots you can make. I think movies will be very similar. As we evolve in the future and demand people to do things in a certain way, it will constrain people who, because of their marginalization in the past, are asking them to tell a story differently.

In the UK, women are more likely to be writers and directors; I think it’s because women have to tell stories that aren’t told or aren’t told that way, so they have to write them.

What are you working on now?
A few years ago I wrote a semi-autobiographical book entitled 7 miles away, about growing up in Stockport – it’s about teenage girls, it’s very music related and it’s the aftermath of a father’s suicide so there’s an element of mental illness. Cairo and I were approached by Michael Winterbottom’s company, Revolution; we work [with them], I adjusted it and we are still developing. I always say I want to do it next year, then about four years later… I don’t want to tempt fate, I’m still refining the script, but I’d love to do it next year.

Over the years I’ve taken a keen interest in Muriel Box, the first British woman to win an Academy Award for Original Screenplay [in 1947 for The Seventh Veil]. She is one of Britain’s most prolific female filmmakers and wrote a memoir entitled Strange woman out 1974; but has never had a British retrospective. I think I have to do a film about Muriel – that will come later.

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