Interview: Hope Dickson Leach on her contribution to The Uncertain Kingdom, ‘Strong Is Better Than Angry’.

The Uncertain Kingdom is a brilliant and dizzyingly diverse anthology of twenty short films from twenty directors that give an insight into Britain as it stands on the brink of Brexit and what promises to be a decisive new decade.

‘Strong Is Better Than Angry’ is Hope Dickson Leach’s (The Levelling) entry to the collection, a drama-documentary set in a body combat class which asks: What makes women angry and what would they like to do about it?
We caught up for a chat about the whims of political will, the looming shadow of Brexit, and the power to be found in learning to bear and focus anger.

How are things with you?

Alight, I wasn’t very well so I’ve had about five weeks out flat with it but I’m better now. Trying to manage the kids, life, the family, cooking…all that stuff that we’re all dealing with now.

The Uncertain Kingdom had been planned to come out in April but the release was postponed due to the coronavirus situation. I’m guessing that will have been quite frustrating for you?

Yeah, of course. We shot this film last year so we’re keen for it to get to an audience while it still feels meaningful and relevant – that was the big attraction for me with this project. It was attractive to make something very quickly that was a direct response to things that were going on.

It has been slightly frustrating that it’s taken this extra time but you know, it is what it is. It’s not about the virus and I think actually it might be interesting for people to be reminded of all the other things going on in the country outwith the virus. That these things will still have been happening and still have happened, and that we still need to talk about them and figure them out. It might be an interesting attraction, I think.

Climate change hasn’t gone away, the problems with migration haven’t gone away, problems around disability haven’t gone away, power imbalances haven’t gone away.

Yeah, in lots of cases these things are being thrown into the foreground and people are becoming more aware of lots of issues that they had been able to ignore. The homelessness problem is a really interesting situation with us witnessing a government suddenly able to help homeless people who they’ve been treating so abominably for so many years. It’s sort of interesting to see that, when the will is there, that the government and the country is able to solve a problem that we’ve been told is unsolvable. But there are other problems that we’re just not thinking about right now, like Brexit.

Brexit is still looming.

It’s still looming and it’s going to loom very large very quickly I think. Summer will bring that into sharp focus as the dates that we’re supposed to hit various negotiations and trade deals just whizz by. No-one has the time, space or the power to actually deal with the things that need to be done before we leave the EU. So I think that’s going to be a big thing in the next few months again. I hope it does. I hope we remember what an enormous thing it is that we’re doing and what the effects are going to be on this country.

Delving straight into the middle of your film. There’s a change in mood and focus which arrives suddenly; you move from the women talking about their experiences and what makes them angry to the moment where you have a replica of David Cameron’s face being struck. I was shocked. In a way, it feels like it’s very personal.

Good! The idea for the film came from when I was doing some body combat classes and struggling with various things. It was during the era of Me Too. I was furious. I felt the fury rising amongst women that we’d been told to suppress this for hundreds of years.

You’re not allowed to be angry with people; we’re still not allowed to be angry. It’s a very interesting gendered thing that women aren’t allowed to be angry. I wanted to make a film about that really; about how hard it is to be angry and also how poisonous it is to be angry. But I also wanted it to be about how effective it can be when you move it in the right way. That’s a whole big thing.

I wanted to show that anger can make you strong. I know that’s really trite because that’s the title of the movie. [With kickboxing] I became really fit and strong and I was able to cope with my powerlessness at all these things that were going on in the world, and in my life, that I had no control over. And so when I became strong, yes I still had the anger, but I was able to bear it. I was able to organise and get effective. I wanted to celebrate that.

Why is it personal? In the first draft of the script, I had about ten heads and there were lots of people. It was very expensive to build those beautiful heads. We wanted to do a digital 3D design and then with 3D printing it was a really complicated prop to make. In the end, I think I chose him because he’s impossible to argue with, that smug face. It really had to be something visual, you had to understand why she was doing it. I think so many people are angry with Brexit and we’re completely powerless. Cinema is all about violence, you could argue… It just was what it was and I’m kind of glad it’s shocking because it should be shocking.

But also, he’s not real. This isn’t an invitation to do anything, this is a kind of seeing inside women’s brains actually. We can be powerful and we can be violent but it doesn’t mean we’re going to do anything real.

I think by hearing what they all talk about, we imagine all of the people that they are talking about as well. I think ultimately we’re seeing the faces of the women. It’s really about them.

The press and the viral videos are always about the people who have the power and we don’t have the power. So let’s turn the camera around and put it on the faces of the people without the power who are trying to find a way to be powerful.

How did you choose the women in the video? Were these people you knew from your kickboxing class?

No, I wanted to find a really diverse mix of people so we did an open call. We just invited people who had things they wanted to talk about, things that made them angry. Some of them had done kickboxing and various different exercises, some of them have never done it before. There’s a lady in it who has been doing it for 25 years and is literally the most zen person I’ve ever met, and she’s phenomenal with her fists.

It was brilliant. It was a really nice way to meet a group of people and they all actually became very close and they stayed in touch. I think it was a really nice group of people, who were all engaged in the world and their place in it and wanted to talk about that. So we were very lucky to be able to bring those women together and make something with them.

Do you have a favourite line from the film?

Someone said something about stealing her chips. Is that in the film now? I can’t remember if that made it.

I love the one where she says ‘I just haven’t been listened to. Do you know what I mean?’ That’s the bridge. It’s the bridge between the anecdotal – the things that make you angry in your everyday life – to the power structure where you’re being ignored at a structural level. Not being listened to is something I struggle with.

Final question. Who is it that you would like to punch today?

Good grief! [laughing] Boris!

Gove. I always want to punch Michael Gove, I think that’s just his face. Dominic Raab, let’s punch Dominic Raab. Matt Hancock, I want to punch Matt Hancock.

All of them, I just feel like we should have a lineup.

The Uncertain Kingdom will be available to watch on-demand on BFI Player, iTunes, GooglePlay, Amazon, and Curzon Home Cinema from 1st June. There will also be community screenings later in the year.


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