VALENTINE’S DAY draws out elements from my own life. The story and setting are loosely based on my experience working as a kitchen assistant at a residential home for the elderly in my teens. I encountered many characters there. It was upsetting to see some residents becoming increasingly dependent on the staff. Some residents had no family while others had families that no longer visited. On the other end of the spectrum there were the sharp-witted, acid-tongued, larger-than-life characters full of colourful tales and eccentric wisdom.
And then you have the staff: Angie the cook, nicknamed “The Barnsley Chronicle” for her gossiping. Coleen the senior careworker who was once reprimanded by management for turning up to work in stilettos and white ankle socks. Little fragments of my time spent working at the care home have evolved into these slice of life vignettes in VALENTINE’S DAY. This script was inspired by the scope for comedy and pathos that exists in this unique setting.
All of the women in my family are divorcees, largely due to wandering husbands. The women have always stuck together and raised the family. VALENTINE’S DAY plays on the assumption that women have been socialised by the patriarchy to think there is only one path to take: to find a man and give him all your love and energy. Julie falls victim to this.
With VALENTINE’S DAY I wanted to depict three generations of women with very different perspectives and approaches to life and relationships. Tracy is the minx. She is cunning, flighty and easily bored. She courts male attention and has no loyalty to her fellow sisters.
Julie wants to be desired. She follows the advice of her women’s weeklies on ‘How to Keep a Man’ only for it to backfire. She is overworked, underpaid and unlucky in love. She is led to believe that marriage is the pinnacle of achievement in a woman’s life- the golden ticket to happiness. As another Valentine’s Day comes along, Julie’s goal is simply to get through it- something that many can relate to.
Tracy has no real interest in taking care of residents at Grove House so she amuses herself throughout the working day by tormenting and goading Julie who she regards as pathetic. Even the glamorous, elderly resident Angie is irritated by Julie’s outwardly chirpy nature that appears to mask a deep sadness. As the film progresses we see the tension between Julie and Tracy escalate. Tracy walks muddy footprints over the mopped floor. Later she flaunts her new engagement ring and makes a jibe about old brides aimed at Julie, unmarried and in her 40s. The final straw comes when Julie is humiliated at the party when Jim points out the lipstick on her teeth, as Tracy smirks and continues to flirt outrageously with Julie’s partner.
The matriarchal figure of Angie is inspired by my grandma, a force to be reckoned with. After Angie discovers that Tracy has stolen her necklace, she decides to get even and enlists the help of Julie, who becomes her protégé. Julie’s transformation is evident as she looks on as Tracy follows Jim out of the dining room. Her smile mirrors that of Tracy’s throughout the film. The tables have been turned.
VALENTINE’S DAY is a payback tale. The audience empathises with Julie the underdog, and we’re rooting for her when she eventually takes her revenge.
The theme of sisterhood emerges in the final scene. The message is simple: “Marriage isn’t all its cracked up to be!”
“Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit, because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure”
As a visual storyteller my aesthetic has been strongly influenced by the kitchen sink realism of Alan Clark’s RITA, SUE AND BOB TOO (1987) and the bittersweet tragicomedies of Mike Leigh such as SECRETS AND LIES (1996). What appeals to me is the portrayal of ordinary people.
I am also influenced by the idiosyncratic characters in Alan Bennett’s work, in particular the TALKING HEADS (1988) series and the absurd reversals of fortune in Almodóvar’s films.
- Chris Murdoch