Harry Wootliff, one of Britain’s rising women filmmakers, is in Venice for the world premiere of her second feature, “True Things,” starring Ruth Wilson and Tom Burke. The film, which screens in Venice’s Horizons, also plays at the Toronto Festival.
The film, based on Deborah Kay Davies’ novel “True Things About Me,” was initially developed by Jackson and Law’s production company Riff Raff U.K. and Wilson’s Lady Lazarus. When they brought on board the Bureau’s Tristan Goligher, he recommended Wootliff, with whom he was working on relationship drama “Only You.” That film went on to earn her a BAFTA nomination for outstanding debut, and the British Independent Film Award for debut director.
“True Things” follows Kate, a single woman in her early thirties, working in a dead-end office job in an English coastal town. She plunges into a heady relationship with a charismatic stranger — we only ever know him as “Blond” — which soon puts her at loggerheads with friends, family and employers, who fear she is veering off the rails.
Goligher recalls: “The way Harry talked to us about [the story] very early on was that Kate’s experience is almost like an addiction. There is a dissatisfaction with her life, and when she meets Blond that brings about an intoxication, which encourages her to put herself in situations that she wouldn’t normally.”
He adds: “Harry is very idiosyncratic in her creative choices, really specific and distinctive, and it just immediately felt like this is a filmmaker who’s going to make the story her own, but in a very collaborative fashion.”
For Wilson, the key to the story is that it is told through “an acutely subjective female lens,” with a very dry sense of humor. Adapting it posed some obstacles. “We land in the middle of her story with no explanation. You just see moments of her life and through that you cobble together her story,” she says. “That was a challenge, and why Harry’s so brilliant, because she’s brave enough not to explain everything, but to trust the audience to understand [what is happening].”
Wilson describes Kate’s character as “elusive” and “quirky,” and that she and Wootliff had to get inside her mind. “It was a true collaboration figuring out who this woman was, and I haven’t really worked like that before on a project, where I’m working so closely with the writer-director, and together really, actually creating a character,” she says.
Wootliff was determined that Kate wasn’t portrayed as a victim or an “obsessive, crazy woman.” “It was important to me that she wasn’t just insane, whimsical, silly, or unintelligent. She’s driven. She has her own sense of purpose, even though she’s pushing in the wrong direction.”
Wootliff also wanted to “get under the skin” of Kate’s lover. “I didn’t want to make it one sided. I didn’t want to make it purely her obsession,” she says. “It was important to me that he’s also three dimensional.”
Wootliff also sought to deliver an honest depiction of a woman’s sexual appetite in contrast to many films. “The fact that she has a libido and that she’s driven sexually was really important to me, because I think it’s always a man that has a sexual appetite, and the woman doesn’t. It makes her more grounded; yes, she is looking for love, and romantic love, and what that can offer. But she also fancies him, and having sex with him is fun and makes her feel good.”
Law sees the challenge of directing the film as a “juggling act.” “You have to be convinced that you’re in the world of the protagonist; you have to be comfortable in her discomfort, safe in her oddities and individuality, and Harry has, from her short films through to first feature, ‘Only You,’ demonstrated an ability to really get inside an individual’s mind, and use a very graceful cinematic paintbrush.”
It is an indication of the faith that senior executives in the British film industry have in Wootliff that the film attracted backing from the British Film Institute and BBC Films, as well as leading U.K. distributor Picturehouse.
Wootliff is now developing a third feature, a family horror film, with the Bureau. This reflects how the company likes to collaborate with filmmakers to help them to “make good choices in terms of moving a career forward, and being able to raise their ambitions, project by project,” Goligher says.