Five Minutes with: Helen Blakeman

Playwright and Screenwriter Helen Blakeman tells us how she got started in the industry, her favourite onscreen villain and gives some sage words of advice.

Helen Blakeman sits on a red chair in front of a film poster

Helen Blakeman

What are you working on right now?

Currently I’m juggling a few projects – who doesn’t?! – so I’m writing a play and also developing various projects for TV. They’re all rather different but most are set overseas, so they do have sunshine in common. It certainly helps me get through the dark winter days!

What/who originally turned you onto film?

I began my career in theatre – so it was writing Pleasureland (2003), my first feature-length film for Channel 4 that turned my career onto the screen. Before that, I was a keen viewer! Watching films on TV such as Whistle Down the Wind (1961), Spirit of the Beehive (1973) and The Kidnappers (1953), with Duncan Macrae, are among my first film ‘favourites’.

What’s your connection to the British Council?

In September, I had the great pleasure of travelling to northern Sri Lanka for the Jaffna International Cinema Festival where I mentored 8 young female filmmakers for the British Council’s Female Filmmakers First programme. It was an inspiration and an adventure all rolled into one!

Since then I’m doing my best for burgeoning Sri Lankan filmmakers to have their films screened in the UK. Bavaneedha Loganathan, one of the young women I mentored, recently had her film Generations (2019) shown at the Earl’s Court Film Festival.

What has been your career high so far?

That’s a tough one – because often getting through the process and delivering a script that you’re really proud of and satisfied with is a high! But I suppose I’d have to say that winning a BAFTA and an International Emmy for my TV film Dustbin Baby (2008) was a career high so far. I even remember the music they played as I went up to collect the BAFTA. It was ‘Rockstar’ by Pink. If I ever hear that whilst strolling round the supermarket I tend to get a swagger in my step!

What was your first job in the film industry?

My first ever job was an actress, age 15, in the Liverpool-based soap ‘Brookside’. I’d sent a letter and a handwritten CV to ask how it’s possible to get on TV. To my surprise, I was called for an audition and went on to land the part. That was my first experience of the industry. With scripts written by Jimmy McGovern, amongst others, it was a great introduction!

If I knew then what I know now…

…always believe in yourself! Your voice is your voice alone – and deserves to be heard.

And also if something doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. Whether it be writing a specific scene to choosing a project to work on, always believe your gut!

What is your favourite British film?

It’s so difficult to pick just one – so I’ll go with sentiment and say The Long Day Closes (1992) by Terence Davies. Again, another Liverpool connection, it is full of heart and truth. The relationship between young protagonist, Bud, and his mother is so touching it brings a tear to my eye. And also my sister is in it!

What’s your favourite line or scene from a film?

For me, Lost in Translation (2003)is packed-full of moments. I love subtly which the audience is left to decipher on their own, so the unspoken interaction between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in the karaoke bar is hard to beat. The rest of the film is just as joyously subtle, funny and heart-rending too. And it’s by a female director!

Who’s your favourite screen hero and/or villain?

I’d have to choose a character of my own creation here – and that’s the villainous Victorian, Matron Bottomly from Hetty Feather (CBBC, Amazon). Devilishly played by the wondrous Eva Pope, Matron is in a position of trust yet wholly untrustworthy, who our audience love to hate – the essence of a perfect villain!

Who would play you in the film about your life?

I think an Eva Green and Jodie Comer combination would work best! Eva for the brunette, smouldering soul and Jodie for the ‘Scouse’ sass would do me just fine.

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