Last Friday I attended a special screening of a new British film called Pin Cushion, courteously of Bird’s Eye View. The movie forms part of their Reclaim the Frame initiative; a series of films highlighting the work of female directors. The screening was followed by a Q&A hosted by Mia Bays founder of Birds Eye view alongside lead actress Joanna Scanlan, producer Gavin Humphries, critic and screenwriter Kate Muir as well as Professor Kathryn Abel from the University of Manchester who specialises in psychological medicine.
This new British film is written and directed by Deborah Haywood and tells the story of mother Lyn and her daughter Iona who move to new town in the Midlands to start a new life. Despite both being quirky misfits they try in earnest to make the move a success and meet new people. However, it soon becomes clear that reinventing yourself isn’t as easy as it seems and their strong mother-daughter relationship is quickly put to the test.
Pin Cushion tackles big meaty issues such as bullying, living with a disability and female sexuality but at it’s heart lays an incredibly dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship based on lies and fantasy. This is conveyed through gothic and fairy-tale-like elements which are used to deal with some of the more uncomfortable aspects of the film. At first these impressionist-style shifts took some getting to use to but as the film progressed they began to make sense as the magical/fairy-tale imagery took on a greater meaning. I particularly enjoyed the bathroom scene (I won’t say more as I don’t want to ruin it) later on in the film.
What came across really strongly in this powerful film was the voice and behaviours of women, especially young, teenage girls. The bullying scenes were so uncomfortable to watch precisely because they captured exactly what female bullies can be like and female whose experienced bullying will find this even more troublesome.
I don’t thing it does this film a disservice to say that, on screen, this looks like a female-made film visually. For example, I’d be hard pressed to find a male-directed film that uses crocheting and knitting in all it’s glory as this done and if it’s something you are interested in, then you’ll really appreciate the set design, props and costumes in Pin Cushion (it’s very kitsch).
The main cast members; Iona played by Lily Newark (a star in the making) and Joanne Scanlan who plays mum Lyn are brilliant and there’s even a cameo role from Nadine Coyle from Girls Aloud as well as Bruce Jones from Coronation Street who stars briefly as cringeworthy psychic that induced laughs from the audience.
What I loved about Pin Cushion was that this was a world of females written and directed by a female. The male experience dominates film so to see a film like Pin Cushion shift the focus is fantastic, even more so when you hear the lengths it took to get a film like this made and in cinemas as film executives questioned whether girls really behaved this way (hint, they do). This is partly a testimony to the great work being done by Bird’s Eye View and the BFI in the UK.
They’ve recognised the importance of presenting female voices on screen, ones that are a lot less conventional. Pin Cushions is a movie that’s allows us to step into the minds of the two female characters and this is a rare but challenging move for a British film. It’s also daring because traditionally females about women made by women are belittled and struggle to find funding.
It’s been praised by critics and rightly so because it’s clear that Deborah Haywood has a real talent for tackling contentious areas and opening up debate. That debate continued on into the Q & A after the screening and really helped me gain a deeper understanding of the film then I would have done otherwise.
|Pin Cushion Q&A with (from left to right); Mia Bays, Joanne Scanlon, Gavin Humphries, Kate Muir and Bruce Jones|
I found Professor Kathryn Abel’s contributions particularly interesting. As this is a film that tackles the issue of women’s mental health she discussed the presentations of distress in young women as well as the role of the teachers and parents in the movie and particularly the dysfunctional relationship between the mother and her daughter. She asked the questions, “who is parenting whom?” in the movie as both Iona and Lyn routinely lie to one another. The uneasiness we feel comes not just from the bulling but the way it’s dealt with/or not as the case may be. According to Prof. Abel, Iona is missing a parent in her life and the mother is does have behaves in an almost child-like way.
In the end we’re left to judge for ourselves the behaviour of her mother as well as the bullies in the film and I don’t think it’s a real spoiler alert to say that no one comes away unscathed. If this sounds like a hard-going movie, then good, because sometimes films should challenge us. Go see this film if you’re looking for a movie that is different and daring, one that attempts to shine a light on the female experience and shift the male-dominated gaze of so many movies.
I do hope the film gets a wider release but in the meantime it’ due to be screened in the Midlands Art Centre in Birmingham tonight (16th July), then on the 17th July at Genesis in London followed by the Plymouth Arts Centre on the 19th.
If you have been to see this already or intend to go then do let me know in the comments box as I’m keen to hear what your thoughts are.
You can find Pin Cushion on: