Set in 1555, Lapwing tells the tragic yet important story of Patience, a mute English girl who falls in love with Rumi, the son of Egyptians. As this threatens to destroy both communities, Patience sees her life change forever and must be braver than ever. Film Focus Online were lucky enough to speak to screenwriter Laura Turner about her transition from playwriting to screenwriting, and how she aimed to amplify women's voices with Lapwing.
Lapwing has an extremely powerful script. Where did you get your inspiration from?
Thank you so much - that really means a lot to me. With Lapwing, the initial idea for the story actually came from an image that I saw really clearly in my mind’s eye. I’ve always been fascinated by the Tudor period of our history, and wanted to write about that time. I love history and I really believe that there are so many things we can learn about ourselves by looking at the past, and specifically with the themes and narrative of Lapwing, by asking how much has (or more importantly, hasn’t) changed since the time the film is set in 1555. Lapwing started with the image of a young woman in Tudor dress on the bleak Lincolnshire coastline, where I’m from and where the film was set and filmed, covered in blood. So I knew inherently that Lapwing was a story that didn’t shy away from the darker elements of life and went to some difficult, violent places. But I hope that audiences who see the film will agree that it’s actually really important that we see those difficult moments play out so that we can understand the difficulty that Patience, the main character, faces in a world that is hostile to her because she is a woman, because she has a speech impediment and because she dares to be different and to defy convention and the expectations that are placed on her by her closed-minded community.
Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process – how long did it take to complete your script?
It was actually a fairly quick process - because it had to be! I wrote the script for Lapwing at the start of 2017 and it was filmed in the summer of that year, so once we’d decided that we were going to do it, I had to get going with the script very swiftly. I had been working on the concept for Lapwing for a much longer time though. Initially it was going to be a short film, so a very condensed version of the story that basically just brought to life the dramatic incident that became the climax of the feature film. Whilst there was a lot of work to do to expand the world and the story from 15 minutes to 90, it did mean that I went into that process with a strong sense of who the main characters were and the world building, which was really helpful. I do also really enjoy completely throwing myself into a project and immersing myself in the world of the story, so it actually never really felt like a negative thing to be working against a very tight time schedule. It was all quite a whirlwind, but a really exciting and fulfilling one.
How did you get into screenwriting, what were your influences?
My background is actually as a playwright which is where I started writing, and I always say
that doing that really taught me so much about how story works and how to keep an audience gripped. Of course, there are really vast differences between writing for the stage and writing for the screen so there was a lot to learn when I decided to make the move across. That move actually came about thanks to Philip Stevens who was the director of Lapwing; he is also a theatre director and we were working on a play I’d written together, when he suggested that I should consider writing for the screen because my work had a filmic quality to it. It was amazing to hear that, really, as I’d always admired film but never been sure if it was something I could turn my hand to. That really gave me encouragement though, and I threw myself into it, reading screenwriting books, watching a lot of films and reading screenplays. I’ve been really influenced by a lot of the shared references with Phil that he introduced me to, such as the work of Andrea Arnold, Jane Campion and more recently, I’ve discovered David Lowery and Celine Sciamma. I also think Emerald Fennell is incredible and I’m in awe of her talent and vision.
How was it working with Director Phillip Stevens?
It’s been fantastic collaborating with Phil. I think as a writer one of the most important things you hope for is to have a director who really understands and respects your work and that’s absolutely true of our collaboration. I love that Phil questions me and pushes me to look deeper into the complexity of the ideas and themes that the work I want to make touches on and it’s been brilliant to work with him over the last six years. I’m excited for our next project together!
Did you have to alter any elements of your screenplay during filming?
Absolutely - there are always changes that happen on set and afterwards as well. Scenes were rewritten just before - and during - filming, and others were omitted because of time constraints or the creative realisation that perhaps we just didn’t need that element. There was also a real learning curve for me in discovering how much of a film is defined in the edit. Inevitably there’s so much material that was filmed that didn’t make it into the final product but for me, the female experience and the female perspective was always the most important element of this project, as well as one of the trickiest potentially when you have a mute protagonist. But Phil, in collaboration with the incredible editor of Lapwing, was really able to make sure that Patience’s presence and point of view was at the centre of the story, which is fantastic.
The gorgeous setting is one of Lapwing's best features. Did you have rural Lincolnshire in mind whilst writing?
I did, 100%. I’m from Lincolnshire and I’ve always been fascinated by how bleak yet beautiful the coastline around here is. I knew I wanted to set Lapwing somewhere rural and isolated and the coast became the perfect place, especially when Phil and I found out about the nomadic salt farmers who used to live and work on the Lincolnshire beaches, harvesting from the sea. That gave a really firm grounding for why and how these characters found themselves in such an isolated setting and the story flowed from there in a really exciting way. The landscape is very much a character in Lapwing as well, and our cinematographer Stewart MacGregor captured it beautifully.
Lapwing boasts some great star power including Sebastian de Souza and Emmett Scanlen alongside rising star Hannah Douglas. How was it working with these actors and seeing your characters come to life?
It’s been a thrilling process, really. Hannah was always Patience for me; Phil and I had worked with her in theatre and knew that she had the intelligence and empathy to bring a character like Patience to life perfectly. It’s a challenge for an actor I think not having any lines and relying entirely on other means of expression, and Hannah handles that impeccably. She’s an incredible talent and pairing her with Emmett and Sebastian was incredible. Sebastian is such a nuanced actor and brought such beautiful subtlety to the character of Rumi. The love story between him and Patience is by no means the most important element of the narrative of Lapwing, but it does advance Patience’s coming of age and journey towards self-acceptance and self-assurance and Sebastian plays that perfectly. Emmett is a complete powerhouse of an actor and brings a real, tragic complexity to the role of David that goes above and beyond anything I hoped for the casting of that role. I always knew it was a tricky role to cast, to find the balance of making him a psychologically believable character - I never wanted him to become simply villainous; we need to understand why he is the way he is - and Emmett managed that masterfully, bringing new levels to the script in every scene.
How does it feel to see your script come to fruition on the big screen?
It’s been really amazing and a bit overwhelming at times! It’s been a long time coming but I think that’s made it feel even more significant actually - not least because some of the themes of Lapwing have actually become even more prevalent in our lives during the intervening years. With COVID, the experience of isolation has become something we can all identify with a lot more than we could before, and for me, the experience of a woman being physically and emotionally abused and coerced was always at the heart of this story. It’s been shocking and tragic to read about how reportings of domestic abuse have sky-rocketed in the UK during lockdown, but it just shows I think how important it is to tell Patience’s story and to hopefully provoke debate and conversation about the themes and issues that underpin Lapwing. They might feel uncomfortable and be difficult to watch at times, but I hope that means we start talking more about the hidden elements of bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia that still very much exist in our lives today.
You've shown tremendous talent within your screenwriting. Will we see anything new from you soon?
Thank you so much - that’s really kind of you! And yes, I’m busy working on my next screenplay for the follow up feature to Lapwing. It’s not a sequel - it’s very different tonally, as this one is a modern-set folk horror - but it’s a development of the creative and practical processes that we started with Lapwing, and it’s amazing to have found a group of people who can all collaborate together. Collaboration really is the key to successful filmmaking and I’m loving continuing the journey that was started with Lapwing and looking forward to working with people whose work and skill is exciting and inspiring.