Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi's "The Sugar Girls"

Duncan Barrett studied English at Cambridge and now works as writer and editor, specializing in biography and memoir. He most recently edited The Reluctant Tommy (Macmillan, 2010) a First World War memoir. Nuala Calvi also studied English and has been a journalist for eight years with a strong interest in community history pieces. She took part in the Streatham Stories project to document the lives and memories of people in South London. They live in South London.

Here Barrett shares some ideas for director and part of the cast if their new book, The Sugar Girls: Tales of Hardship, Love and Happiness in Tate & Lyle's East End Factories, is adapted for the big screen:
The Sugar Girls is based on interviews with women who worked at Tate & Lyle’s East End factories in the 1940s and 1950s. One of our core interviewees, Gladys Taylor, wasted no time in announcing her desire to be a character in a feature film. We had just arrived at her house for our first interview, and hadn’t even had a chance to sit down, when she demanded, ‘Is this going to be a film then, like Made in Dagenham?’ before pondering who might play her part.

Certainly, if The Sugar Girls were to make it to the big screen, Made in Dagenham would be the obvious reference point – and Nigel Cole, who directed both that film and Calendar Girls, would be an obvious first choice for director. Like both those films, our book focuses on the friendship and camaraderie of ordinary women – and our sugar girls were as tough and strong-willed as their sisters at the Ford motor plant, calling unofficial strikes at work when they felt they weren’t being treated fairly.

It’s actually rather hard to imagine who would play Gladys and the other sugar girls. In the 1940s, girls started work at 14, so it seems likely that young unknown actors would take the main roles. However, there are some wonderful supporting parts among the factory management. The one character who was mentioned in pretty much every interview was Miss Smith, the formidable labour manageress who hired and fired the girls, and who was known around the factory as ‘The Dragon’ for her strict sense of discipline. At her most no-nonsense and intimidating, I can imagine Imelda Staunton in the role.

The other great part for a character actor is Oliver Lyle, the eccentric fellow who used to run the factory, and whose grandfather, Abram Lyle, had built it over 60 years previously. ‘Old Ollie’, as he was known around the factory, was so obsessive about the production process that he once fell into a vat of sugar juice he had been studying particularly intensely – and when he was pulled out, his suit had hardened into armour. He was a warm, enthusiastic man and would be a gift of a part for a larger-than-life performer: perhaps Simon Callow, or maybe even Kenneth Branagh, who bears something of a resemblance to Mr Lyle.
Visit the official blog of The Sugar Girls for pictures, excerpts, reviews and more.

The Page 99 Test: The Sugar Girls.

Writers Read: Duncan Barrett.

--Marshal Zeringue