Director and actress exorcise their childhood bullies on film: the brilliant Pin Cushion
If you’ve ever seen fairy tale heroines as teenage girls whose coming of age goes completely wrong (locked in a tower, put to sleep, being made a servant in your own house) then Pin Cushion is for you.
The brilliant feature film debut from British director Deborah Haywood is the story of the adolescent Iona (Lily Newark) and her mum Lyn ( Joanna Scanlan) who are a little bit eccentric, in a cat-and-crochet way, and suffocatingly close. Their relationship loses itself when they move to a new town just as Iona begins to stop being a little girl.
This is also a film about the daily horror of going to school if you don’t fit in ( often dealt with in US high schools) and both director and lead actress had their own experiences of being severely bullied at school.
“I didn’t think the feature would actually get made,” confesses Deb Haywood, “so I thought, I may as well write from my own belly and get my stuff out. I was subconsciously writing about myself and my own autobiographical life. I was bullied at school so I’ve struggled with friendships as an adult.
“Lyn is also bullied in the film over a stepladder a neighbour borrows and won’t give it back. I actually had a problem when I was in my twenties with someone who borrowed my ironing board and wouldn’t give it back for months. Adult bullying can actually be worse – you can’t tell a teacher or the police and if you don’t have negotiation or assertiveness skills, then you’re still going to be bullied.
“I was bullied by a gang of girls in the year above me. It was just so lonely, so public and humiliating, you feel such shame. When I made the film part of me wanted to say, ‘it’s not based on me’ but I thought if I don’t admit it’s based on me I am perpetuating the same thing. It’s emotionally biographical, not literally – but there was a lot of graffiti at school, desk with ‘We hate Deb Haywood’ on them.”
Deb adds that because of Lily’s own experiences of bullying at school, “she burst into tears when she saw the graffiti about Iona on the school walls. We had a bit of a cuddle and a chat.” Presumably the 23 year old actress – hard to believe, as she plays an adolescent schoolgirl so well – has silenced her erstwhile bullies with her part at Lexi in Solo along with her work for Chanel.
Deb Haywood had her own method of coping – filming Pin Cushion at her old school in Swadlincote, Derbyshire. “Before it was painful,” she explains, “but now I do see it differently in the context of the film. But thank God school ends at some point.
“I did read that if you’re happy and ok with yourself on the inside you have absolutely no need to bully anyone else, so I hope that’s helpful to anyone enduring it. We’ve had a lot of people, and their parents and grandparents, come up to us at festival screenings. I just hope they feel less lonely when they see the film.”
Pin Cushion’s look is as girly as it gets - a pink and sparkly splash over its darkness. “Because it’s supposed to be like a sweet wrapper over something really unpleasant,” Deb explains. “ You’re drawn to colour, and It reminded me of fairy tales when I was little – there was so much white and blue and pink, but the stories are horrible. It did evolve as a fairy tale because in those tales the girls are very innocent and pure in Cinderella and Red Riding Hood and then wicked things come and try and destroy them. The more lovely the aesthetic, the more brutal you can be.”
The director’s now working on a semi-horror film about a young woman with post natal depression – again, from her own experience. In the meantime, she explains the journey she made to get to completing her first film.
“When I first wrote a short film script and it was developed and got a green light for shooting, I thought I would be paired up with a director and they said, ‘oh no, you’re doing it.’ I was terrified. My Dad had recently died, so I thought, “well the worst has happened now, so I might as well do this.’ Plus I had seen all the statistics for women directors and I thought, ‘I have the opportunity to direct a film and if I don’t do it because I am scared, I am doing nothing for the numbers.’ So really, I kept forcing myself to move ahead with it, and then with Pin Cushion I had such an enthusiastic, friendly, pro-women team I enjoyed it so much.
“Now I just think I can’t wait to do it again.”
Pin Cushion will be released in select cinemas across the UK from Friday 13th July. Please go to http://pincushionfilm.co.uk/ for more information and cinema listing details.