Vicky Jewson Interview

Lady Godiva director Vicky Jewson talks about learning the ropes and love stories.

by Jennie Kermode

Jennie Kermode: Your film Lady Godiva is a modern update of a very old story. Can you tell me how long you've been interested in the Lady Godiva legend and why you decided to bring it to the screen?

Vicky Jewson: I've been interested in it for about three years and I thought it was important to bring to the screen because it's like the undiscovered Robin Hood. It's a British legend, close to all our hearts, yet it's never really been told in the big media circle of film-making. There was a film in 1955 with Maureen O'Hara [Lady Godiva Of Coventry] but that was show in California with American accents so didn't really cut it.

JK: Are there parts of the story which you think most people are unfamiliar with?

VJ: Most people know 'naked woma, horse'. It's funny that most people don't know that the one person who saw her was called Peeping Tom and that's where 'peeping Tom' comes from. But it was a really courageous thing for her to do in the 11th century. Her husband was overtaxing all the peasants and she was pleading with him to give them a better life, so he said "If you love your people so much, let's put it to the test. Ride naked in front of them on market day." And to his shock and consternation, she did it. It's a really inspirational story.

JK: Even in the present day, and in the film, Jemima receives negative reactions to her taking her clothes off in public. It's a controversial idea, that a woman can empower herself by doing something like that. Did you feel that was an important statement you were making with the film?

VJ: To some extent. I wasn't trying to make a statement. I was trying to write about a young girl who was chasing her dreams and the power that you can get from following your dreams. Believe in yourself - that's the message that runs through it. I'm not trying to make a feminist statement or anything, I'm just trying to say go for your passion, believe in your dreams, and if it means getting naked on a horse then do it.

JK: So was the ride important to Jemima in building up her confidence so she could run her Art Factory again without her brother?

VJ: Yes, exactly. It's not so much about building up her confidence for the Art Factory, it's about keeping the Art Factory alive. She gets to the stage where she realises this is something she desperately wants to keep going and she has to raise the finance for it, and she gets given this bet and suddenly thinks actually, this could be perfect if I'm brave enough to do it. I could wow Prince William and get the grant I need to keep my charity going.

JK: So is this something you identified with when it came to getting the funding to make the film?

VJ: Absolutely. I don't think I would have ridden naked through a town, but it's definitely a real challenge to do something that you love and to get support from people for that. You do have to make a bit of a statement when you're going about it. When I was writing he script it came straight from the heart.

JK: What film-making experience did you have before you started on this?

VJ: I'm entirely self-taught, really. I started making films and messing about with cameras aged about seven, did one semi-professional course with a group called the Oxford Film and Video Makers for five days when I was 16, and that was it. I never looked back. I made lots of mini-features as I was growing up which got premiered around Oxford, with a few local celebs. It just kept growing and then one day? I finished school and thought, right, I want to mke films. Now I'm going to make a feature.

JK: How did you go about finding the cast for this film?

VJ: I was very quick to try and get a casting director on board because I didn't have he knowledge of the business to make sure I found the right cast, so I brought on board somebody's who's ex-BBC, who understood what talent was around and set it all up for me, which was a wonderful experience.

JK: Your leading lady, Phoebe Thomas, must have been nervous about the naked ride. How did you go about filming that scene?

VJ: We were bound by the city council, unfortunately, and they said they'd arrest us! So we therefopre had to get up very early in the morning, at 4 a.m., and hide all our extras around Oxford and give them the location at the very last minute. We had to do it in an hour.

JK: The film also contains a strong love story. Is Jemima's defiance of the man she loves important to that? Do you think it makes it more realistic.

VJ: Yes, absolutely. And it's trying to draw a parallel, too, to the medieval story, and how that woman had o defy her husband which in those days was an incredible feat. It's also looking at how she has to follow her heart rather than his heart in order to fulfil her dreams.

JK: How do you feel about other recent romance films? Do you have any favourites?

VJ: Ooh, yes - I love them all! Some of my favourites... The first one I ever saw, when I was much younger, was Pretty Woman, which is one of my favourites; and then, if we're going to be British, in the last few years I think the best one I've seen is Pride and Prejudice.

JK: So what's your next project? Do you have any further features planned?

VJ: My next project is a script I've just finished called The Other Place, which is an espionage thriller. And I'm also interested in working on another project. The producer on the film, Rupert Whitaker, is going to make his directorial début in a few months' time, on a script he's just finished. I'll be working in a producer capacity on that film.

Lady Godiva hits cinemas across the UK this Friday.

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