Sisters are Doing it for Themselves in The Sycamore Gap

By Susan England

Award-winning Newcastle director and writer Lucy Rose Wilson-Green didn’t listen to conventional wisdom when it came to making her short film The Sycamore Gap.  In fact, to paraphrase the Beatles, she got by with a lot of help from her friends and the kindness and generosity of Newcastle City Council and the National Trust.

For her last project in the Film and TV Production Studies programme at Northumbria University, Ms. Wilson-Green wanted to pull out all the stops and really push her team.  Self-funded, The Sycamore Gap was filmed in Mansion House in Jesmond and in the historic and scenic Sycamore Gap along Hadrian’s Wall.  According to Wilson-Green, Newcastle City Council, owner of Mansion House, granted the use of the period property pro gratis and the crew worked closely with the National Trust to use the lovely Sycamore Gap free of charge for filming.

Costumes were donated, made by crafty members of the team or obtained from charity shops, and alterations were done by Wilson-Green herself and producer Sarah Talbot.  Foregoing advice against self-funding, approximately £700 along with lots of help from friends, family, film crew and cast, the Newcastle City Council, National Trust and many others gave birth to this labour of love.  Wilson-Green said she knew that this was the last time she would have so much control over a project, so she followed her dream.  Having already won the Best Director Award at the Indie Wise International Film Festival, as well as participating in multiple film festivals, Wilson-Green hopes for similar success with The Sycamore Gap.

Set in 1841, the film focuses on a romantic liaison between Mina, the housemaid and a woman of colour, and Clara, the wealthy lady of the house.  Both women live in fear of Clara’s wealthy husband James and the possible consequences if he discovers the affair.  Of all the characters, Mina has the most to lose if her affair is discovered.

Wealthy husband James is played by Michael Adamson, graduate of Northumbria University. He has appeared in a number of indie stage and film performances.  Asked about his experience in dealing with an almost all female cast and crew compared with a mostly-male endeavour he said, “The biggest difference I can find within working with mostly male or female productions seems to be the intent on how to capture each scene. Most female directors I have worked with put emphasis on finding the truth of each character and their relationships, and using that basis to create inspired moments for the film. Male directors often seem to explain the aesthetic they want to capture at the climactic point of a scene and work backwards from there.”

Furthermore, Adamson readily admits he would work again in a similar mostly-female project, “Absolutely! I think it’s important to have a diversity of people in most productions as it offers more perspectives to work from, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working on this project and haven’t seen a reason to reject future mostly female productions.”

Sophie Nattrass, who was born in Northumberland, plays lady of the house Clara.  Originally a young model who has appeared on the cover of a number of notable publications such as Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue Italia, she has also appeared in TV programmes such as George Gently and The Paradise on BBC and Vera on ITV.  She holds a BA Hons Performance degree from Northumberland University.

Nattrass confesses that the part of Clara in The Sycamore Gap is her favourite role thus far. When asked why, she said, “I think it was the fact that she is such a strong character but also very complex to play. It’s always interesting playing a character that you can really get under their skin and play pure raw emotions.”  She elaborates on her feelings towards the character Clara, “I think what I liked best was her strength and courage to go after what she wants as that wasn’t what women of that time did. I think one thing I liked the least was how misunderstood she is, as she was seen as selfish and a terrible person but that wasn’t the case at all and hopefully the audience will see her side of the story as she is incredibly brave and strong.”

Kristel Buckley, who plays Mina, the housemaid and woman of colour, was a third year Zoology student at Newcastle University when asked to take part in The Sycamore Gap. However, Buckley has acted from a young age and is currently a member of the National Youth Theatre and has trained professionally in musical theatre.

Buckley identifies with and admires the character Mina. “I definitely felt a kinship between myself and Mina. I think I identify with the wanting to break free of constraints, and relationships that aren’t making you happy. Mina has a strength that I wish I had and I think stepping into her shoes has made me think differently about situations in my own life. This strength, matched with her sense (of self), is what I admire most about her, she identifies the right course of action, and no matter how difficult it may be. She follows what she knows is right.”  Taking part in The Sycamore Gap has reinforced Buckley’s love of acting and she is currently applying to drama schools.

Buckley feels issues covered in The Sycamore Gap speak to society today. “I think we have moved forward leaps and bounds since the time that the film is set, and the incidents of racism as obvious as this in my life have happened, but have been very rare. Though, as I mentioned in my interview, now things aren’t normally overtly prejudice, but there are still inequalities. For example, socioeconomic status in this country. Often people of colour will experience more obstacles and have very little options, rendering social mobility very difficult. This is similar to Mina’s situation in the film, yet not specific to an individual, and not as obvious. I believe this film holds up a mirror to today’s society and asks, how much have you really changed? And while in many aspects, we’ve irrefutably improved, in others, we still have some work to do.”

The Sycamore Gap film launch is 27 January 2018 from 6pm to 8pm at Thought Foundation, Birtley.  Further details may be found here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cool-girl-pictures-launch-and-the-sycamore-gap-short-film-screening-tickets-41122367107.

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