My master’s thesis film, The Rocketship, is a magic-realist piece which draws on my experience growing up in a single-parent family in the UK, the heady escapes from suburban boredom to boyhood dens in the woods, and an imagination and obsession with space sparked by visits to my dad and the Johnson Space Centre in Houston – I always wanted to be an astronaut, and I still do.
But underneath the magic is a very contemporary story that touches the heart of modern life in working-class Britain. The Rocketship is a tale about the effects of modern poverty and austerity, an educated mother battling against insurmountable financial forces, her resulting mental illness and the increasing struggle of her pre-teen son, Shaun, to reconcile encroaching reality with a fading childhood imagination. The themes are pressing – in the UK 90% of single parents are women of which almost 50% live in relative poverty. In Glasgow the child poverty rate stands at a third. The Rocketship is a film about childhood during eternal summers, escape into idylls and the role of the imagination in dealing with inescapable, traumatic realities.
The film was shot during a blistering week in Glasgow – one of the hottest on record – and while the sun brought many challenges to the shoot the weather lent a perfect palette to the summer-break feel I wanted to portray in the film, to contrast with the dull, interior world of Stace (Sharon Osdin). It was my first experience of working with children and also a debut for both Jack Matheson (Shaun) and Sonny Ferguson (Joey). We found our way together and I discovered just how much children bring to a film in their wonderful spontaneity. It is undoubtedly the film I’ve taken most from as a filmmaker, and it is an incredible success for our two young Scottish actors.