”I started off as an actress and it’s a constant frustration to me how one-dimensional the characters are in the scripts I get handed. They’re just either a mother or wife. Women usually remain constant and unchanging in film, and support the man on his journey.”
After beginning her showbiz career in cult comedy Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Alice Lowe has further explored the dark places of the soul as co-writer and female lead in Ben Wheatley‘s black comedy Sightseers. In it, she stars as Tina, a closeted young woman whose caravan holiday with new boyfriend Chris (co-writer Steve Oram) takes a turn for the strange… For our Women in Film issue, Alice took time out from working on her next script to speak to Helen Cox about the serious business of comedy, and the importance of creating strong female characters.
Although Sightseers is about a caravan holiday like no other, do you think it is so funny because there’s a lot of truth in it?
All the best comedy is in the truth of the characters; it can’t just be about the gags. I think there’s a sort of irony in the situation. The caravan is like a microcosm for them, it’s like playing house. It’s the first time [Lowe’s character of Tina] has been away from home and been out of the grip of her mother. They go away for freedom and come into very close contact with other people and have to deal with their lack of manners, and this produces the tension. [Co-writer Steve Oram and I] actually did a research trip where we went away for a week in a caravan, so we could observe all of those weird little tensions.
Was it important to you that Tina wasn’t portrayed as the victim?
It was really important. I started off as an actress and it’s a constant frustration to me how one-dimensional the characters are in the scripts I get handed. They’re just either a mother or wife. I didn’t want her to just be strong; I wanted her to have a journey. Women usually remain constant and unchanging in film and support the man on his journey. Tina starts off as passive and becomes quite strong.
Without giving away the ending, I just wanted people to see that there is more to it than the expected motivations of getting married, or love or having a baby. There are parts of Tina that want that, but there are also parts that are shocking, selfish and about self-preservation. There are not enough female screenwriters or directors to tell these stories. When I write something I’m more likely to write a heroine than a hero. Men probably do that, it’s natural and normal, but it creates an imbalance as there are more male screenwriters and directors. There are also a lot of traditions surrounding female characters that female screenwriters struggle to get away from.
What projects are you working on post-Sightseers?
Well, I’m writing a feature called Lily with Warp Films. I’m doing a little test shoot this spring and hopefully filming it this year. I’m in it but I’ve filmed so many things now I feel like it’s not enough to just be acting any more. Also as you get older as an actress, depressingly, the roles are not as interesting. I didn’t want this project to become someone else’s vision. It’s about taking responsibility for your creative voice; it’s terrifying but it’s got to be done. Bad direction can ruin a film and it’s amazing how people can misinterpret an idea—even when you’re in a meeting with them.Despite the lack of women in the industry I actually feel really positive at the moment. I know that what I’m writing is going to come across as very original as there are many stories about women that haven’t been written yet. I feel quite proud and lucky to be a woman and I feel it’s new territory.