Ten years ago (oh my goodness TEN years ago), my husband Simon and I made a short film called Marion agus an Banphrionsa (Marion and the Princess). It was funded by the Irish Film Board as part of their Irish language short film scheme,Oscailt, and it premiered at the Cork Film Festival where it won the Gradam Gael Linn for Best Irish Language Short. Ten. Years. Ago.
It’s a fictional story inspired by a real encounter between a little girl and Princess Grace of Monaco on her visit to Ireland in 1961. When I lived on the Cote D’Azur, I facilitated theatre workshops for secondary school children in Monaco through the Princess Grace Irish Library. Lovingly administered by the wonderful Judith Gantley, the library is an eccentric little haven for all thing Irish and arty. It’s also very well connected to the ruling family so when it came to filming in the Principality we were given tremendous support. A highlight was sitting next to a former lady in waiting of Princess Grace in the Cathedral, where we filmed at the grave, and hearing about her sadness at the recent passing of her close friend, Prince Rainier. One of those ‘pinch me’ moments.
Our cast was as close to perfect as I could have wished for. The wonderful actress Joan Sheehy came with us to Monaco to play the adult Marion. The terrific Learmont sisters, Erin and Doireann played younger Marion and Una respectively. And my dearest friend Noni Stapleton was just lovely as their Mam. We had a fantastic crew and my wonderful brother in law, the composer Jules Maxwell wrote the original score. Heather McKay made the gorgeous children’s book featured in the short film too.
While Simon and I loved making the film, it was not without difficulty – what film ever is? There was the Russian weather front which brought torrential rain to our weekend in Monaco. There was the crumbling, damp cottage we filmed in half way up a Wicklow mountain which made most of the cast and crew come down with horrible colds. There were administrative and logistic headaches. But amazingly, we did it and we came in on budget. (Huge credit to my producer husband Simon Maxwell who did this all while holding down a very heavy day time job in the IT department of a major bank at the time!)
We premiered the film at the Cork Film Festival and went down for the night to see it. When we woke up in the hotel the following morning, Simon leaned over and said that we needed to stay an extra night. My immediate thought was that something had gone wrong with the reel or something. But no, he’d been given a tip off that we were in with a chance of winning an award.
Since then, our little hopeful film has been all around the world. It’s won awards in Canada, been shown at film festivals in America and China. It’s been sold to TV networks in Japan and Sweden.
People often expect that after a short film that was so successful, we should have launched in to our feature film projects. We set up our little production company ABRI with the full intention to do just that. Simon has a lovely script that’s just waiting to get made and I have plenty of ideas. But then we kind of got sidetracked with three other little productions which, like films, cost a ton of money and give you sleepless nights! In time, we’ll get back to filmmaking. Just watch this space.