Sightseers, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram’s murderous odyssey in a caravan, won the best screenplay award at last night’s British Independent Film Awards.
Here, Lowe talks to i-D about the five year process of writing and starring in the most atypical of romantic comedies, which is currently taking the British box office by storm.
If you had to define Sightseers in a certain category, how would you define it? I think I’d probably describe it as most like a romantic comedy. The redemption for these characters is they think they’re on a romantic journey even while they’re killing people. They think they’re the heroes, so they can justify the murder spree. It’s a film about being in love, and about how much you are willing to compromise for love and what you’re willing to accept from your partner in order to not be alone.
Did you ever talk about Sightseers as a political piece of work when you were writing the film? We didn’t start out wanting to make a satirical, political piece, but we wanted it to be modern so it’s there in the background. We started writing it five years ago, so things changed quite a lot in that time. But we knew the characters had to have a damage to them; people that don’t have much option in their life, and something had happened that was about to make them crack.
How much did you talk about genre and narrative tropes when writing the script? We did do that earlier on in the process. We sat down and watched a lot of films – particularly road movies, because we were conscious we were borrowing quite an American genre. But if you’re going to make a good film, you really can’t be thinking be too much about other films, so we quickly got to talking about the characters, where they were from and what their background was. And quite quickly they began to feel real to us, and their dynamic became more and more obvious. It was like they were living their own lives independent of us.
How much did you want the film to be a comment on British, and particularly northern, culture? There’s something so typically British about going to giftshops in tiny museums, scraping pennies together to buy a pencil sharpener that says Tram Museum on it. Steve and I are both from the midlands so we wanted that to be our starting point. It would have been easy to take the film on a pretty tour through Cornwall or somewhere, but we wanted the film to get more wild and epic and beautiful as it progressed, so heading north felt like the natural thing to do. We were trying to work out what kind of road trip you would do if you were a serial killer looking to escape in Britain.
As a professional actress and comedienne, have you had to learn to be funny on screen, and is it something that can be learnt or taught or just a natural thing? I think gags can be taught, and there’s usually a certain formula for writing sit-coms, but when it comes to performing it certainly helps if you have something already there. I’m still learning, obviously, but I’ve always been able to make people laugh. For me it’s still about learning how to act. I think Steve and I both feel insecure about people taking us seriously.
Sightseers is in cinemas now…
Text: Tom Seymour