Image © Paul Marc Mitchell

Interview with British director and writer Carol Morley

Alice Westoby

London Calling met British director and writer Carol Morley to chat about her new film The Falling, starring Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams and The Theory of Everything’s Maxine Peake.

London Calling: The Falling is based around a strange fainting epidemic that breaks out at an English girls school in the 1960’s. The cast is almost entirely female, and so is the crew – was this intentional?

Carol Morley: I’m very proud that it’s mostly female, but it wasn’t the intention, it was about who was the best person for the job.

It wasn’t a cynical exercise in ‘let’s make an all female cast’ or an all female crew but I think it was a really great dynamic in the end as well, because of working with the young women and they felt comfortable in that environment.

LC: The main characters in the film, best friends Lydia and Abbie – played by Maisie Williams and newcomer Florence Pugh – go through the sort of experiences all teenagers go through. Is The Falling a coming of age film?

CM: I think I saw it as a coming of age film, because even with the mass psychogenic illness element to the film, I felt that I wanted to look within that at a young persons journey. I think also the mother daughter relationship is part of this too.

LC: Was it always the intention for Abbie to be played by a newcomer?

CM: I felt that when you’re sixteen, it’s difficult if you’ve done stuff before, you might be quite stage school...or arrogant…or not very good! You might have learnt too many habits that you have to get rid of. We were definitely always looking at unknowns, we leafleted Oxford and look what we found!

LC: Lydia’s mum is played by Maxine Peake, someone who you’ve worked with numerous times now, how was it working with her again? She seems to be everywhere at the moment!

CM: She never stops working! It’s really lovely working with someone like Maxine because she’s very supportive and really a delight to work with. It feels great to explore with her because she’s always trying to do something new, she’s never trying to rest on what she’s done before so she’s a very exciting actress to work with.

LC: What was it like to work with two actresses, Maisie Williams and Florence Pugh, who have both come from completely different acting backgrounds – one being used to large productions and the other a total newcomer?

CM: It was good! We did a chemistry test to make sure they worked together, and that would have been the point when we knew if Florence felt uncomfortable with her lack of filming experience, but that didn’t happen. They became very friendly before the shoot, and all the girls lived together through the filming so the girls were very comfortable together.

It didn’t feel like Maisie had done these big shoots either, she came into it completely without attitude. She’s incredibly grounded, I feel like she’s an old soul, she’s no diva…well not yet anyway!

LC: Music seems to play a significant part in the film; can you tell me more about this?

CM: I’d written the script with this idea of ‘The Alternative School Orchestra’ and I felt that I didn’t want a 60’s sound-a-like score. I wanted it to come from nature and out of the world of the orchestra.

When I wrote it, I waited to see what instrument each of the girls played and Florence played the guitar so I wrote that in.

LC: I think I spotted Maisie Williams playing the triangle!

CM: Yes she is because she can’t really play anything!

LC: The songs and music in the film are written by Tracy Thorn of English duo, Everything But The Girl – how did you come to work with her?

CM: I had a dream one night that Tracy Thorn had done the music so I contacted her on Twitter and she gave me her number, I phoned her up outside a café called Salvador Deli because that was the only place I could get signal!

She was like, ‘I’ve never composed for a film before so lets see what happens!’ I like when people haven’t done things before, they don’t bring any baggage, it’s exciting and you don’t say ‘oh let’s not do that’ – it’s a big experience.

LC: Your last film, Dreams of a Life, was biographical – have any real life events inspired The Falling?

CM: I read a lot of medical articles, mass hysterias go back to medieval times, so I looked at that but I also looked at particular outbreaks in British schools that are documented. There was a case in a North London comprehensive school, in the 70’s and 80’s, of fainting, which lasted for two years. So the film is inspired by a whole host of real things that have happened, and every film I do involves a lot of research.

LC: Was it exciting to create a world for the film and work on something fictional rather than biographical?

CM: I believed that The Falling characters were real in my head and the big difference is that with that, I didn’t feel any responsibility to real people. In Dreams of a Life, there’s Joyce and I know she isn’t around anymore but I still felt a great responsibility towards her and I felt a big responsibility to the family and friends that are both in and not in the film. It’s a real joy to do something where they didn’t really exist and I don’t have to worry about ‘oh what’s her mum going to think’. I think it’s harder to make documentary films.

The Falling is released in UK cinemas on 24th April 2015.

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