Film: Women on the edge of an emotional breakthrough

It was the first time Brenda Blethyn and Julie Walters worked together, but `Girls' Night' was the start of a beautiful friendship.

IT'S MID-APRIL 1997. I'm standing in the market of a small town outside Manchester, talking to a young man whom no one recognises as a movie director. Around us is spread the paraphernalia of a shoot. The locals are healthily indifferent to the invasion. In a couple of days, the lights and trucks will be gone but local business will go on.

Nick Hurran is doing something directors in Hollywood don't do. He is talking about writers. "I've been very lucky all along the way with the writers I have got to work with - Richard Harris, Simon Nye. Michael Frayn wrote the last thing I did." That was Remember Me? a film developed from one of Frayn's 1960s television plays called Jamie on a Flying Visit, and, it might be argued, better left in television history.

A rather small part in Remember Me? was taken by Brenda Blethyn, doubtless as a favour to Hurran after the success they shared in three series of the Richard Harris sitcom Outside Edge, itself developed from a stage play. Now Blethyn is waiting in her trailer to shoot a scene from Girls' Night, which pairs her with Julie Walters, to everyone's surprise the first time these two have played together.

Blethyn stepped off the plane from last year's Oscars ceremony to be rushed to the read-through of Girls' Night. There is little doubt where she feels more comfortable. Not that the madness of LA did not amuse her. "We had a limo to take us to the Elton John party because he was going to toast the independent films at midnight. My partner Mike and I noticed we were down back streets and surely not where we were supposed to be. So I said to the driver: "Do you know where you are?" and he said: "No, Ma'am." He was a stranger in Los Angeles and he was lost. I panicked. It was terribly embarrassing to go into a garage in a stretch limo to ask directions. I was decked out in $3m-worth of jewellery and we were lost in the back streets."

Julie Walters, of course, went through this experience 14 years earlier with her Academy Award nomination for Educating Rita. I wondered if they had compared notes. "Not yet," says Blethyn. "Our heads have been down, working. It seems like history now to me. That's the best medicine of all. It isn't half nice. And I am a real fan of hers. But it is straight to work, then home to bed and no time for anything else. I can't phone my work in. And I must have my sleep.

Walters is pleased about the pairing, too. "She is my type of actress. I feel as if I know her. It's really funny. In another life perhaps."

Girls' Night is about two sisters in law who regularly play bingo together. Walters' character, Jackie, is a brassy go-getter, feeling hemmed in by disappointing husband and lousy production-line jobs. Dawn (Blethyn) is a devoted home-maker who is just beginning to be overwhelmed by illness when she has a big win on the bingo.

Kay Mellor's bold and beautifully written script embraces the emotion and the humour of the women's situation in a way that is very un-English and almost shamelessly upfront.

The actresses lap it up.

"Right! This is it! Absolutely!" cries Julie Walters. "And middle-aged women! We love this!"

For her, acting a role affected by the desperate illness of someone close is bound to be shadowed by the long struggle borne by Walters' daughter Maisie in her childhood. "Your life does affect your work. Everything is going to influence the way you observe and embody a character. It was peculiar shooting in a hospital the other day. We spent such a long time in hospital. But Maisie's well and a child and my daughter and it was such a huge personal thing, there's nothing like the fear of losing a child. I think I felt more aware of remembering my friend Ian Charleson when he was dying in 1990. But I try to keep away from too much emotion when I am working because I wouldn't want to go `whahey!' - you might never stop. So I don't consciously go to it as emotional material. But it's part of me, naturally."

I ask Brenda Blethyn about the difficulty of playing emotional scenes. "I don't find one thing more difficult than another to play. It's just finding the truth of it, not how you do something but why you do it, why you say it. That's the most challenging part of any acting. All you should ever do is trust the writing. If you don't trust it, don't do it."

She was given an early draft of the script and at that stage said she would be keen to pursue it. "It's been floating around in my mind for about nine months, like a pregnancy. I didn't sit down and sweat over it. She was just renting a room up in my head somewhere. The true friendship of women, even though neither of them really realises it, I found nourishing. It's so tender, but she is not afraid of things being ugly."

Julie Walters says that Kay Mellor's dialogue is unusually easy to play. "It just goes into your head. I don't say I never forget a line but it's very easy to learn and that is a good sign I always think. And of course middle-aged women are rarely represented this well.

Meeting Kay Mellor four months later, I encounter a writer ecstatic with the fine cut of the film that Nick Hurran has just shown her. "It's very seldom in any writer's career that a script is realised 100 per cent. Brenda and Julie just knew what I wanted. They knew why I had written it. Nick's been affected by cancer in his family so he understood it, too. It almost seemed like someone was up there looking after us."

The script had unusually personal origins. "I wrote it as a tribute to a friend who was dying of cancer a couple of years ago. They were encouraging her to talk about it. But she didn't want to. The last thing she said to me was: `You have to write about it, Kay, so that we don't have to talk about it, those of us that don't want to.' And I wanted to understand how she graciously left this life while I was furious and raging."

`Girls' Night' opens on 26 June.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?