Bless Jessica Hynes. Our interview with the star of Spaced, The Royal Family and Twenty Twelve was moved last minute from midday to the end of a long afternoon of media coverage. And, in the nicest way possible, you can tell in her voice that it’s been a long afternoon of media coverage. Despite this, Hynes only grows in animation as we discuss her new film – The Fight – and the Kent town at its beating heart.
Currently in cinemas, The Fight not only finds Hynes as lead – playing harassed mother of three Tina – but also as its writer and director. If directorial uncertainty is tangible, at times, in the film’s delivery, this is never to the detriment of a story wonderfully keen to put real people and their real struggles front and centre.
‘I really wanted something that everyone that I know and love could relate to’ says Hynes.
‘In a way, I wanted to champion families that struggle and families that go through difficulties because everybody does. To have a mum at the centre of it, who triumphs, was definitely an inspiration.’
As Tina, Hynes faces more than her fair share of difficulties across the course of the film. Indeed, Tina battles against the challenges of handling a bullied daughter, overbearing mother, abused father and semi-absent – due to night shifts – husband. To top it all, a figure from the past she has fought hard to forget is about re-enter her life. On the brink of breakdown, Tina finds solace in a local boxing gym and the ring within.
The gym in question can be found in the port town of Folkestone, where Hynes lives with her husband and three children, and it was here that the idea for the film began to form.
‘It’s an old victorian space with very high windows and lovely filtered light,’ recalls Hynes.
‘I thought it would be so lovely to film in here. Somebody needs to capture this place as it is now. Lots of dusty old photos on the wall, shelves and boxing gloves and big old leather punch bags and a ring in the corner.’
With the setting pinned, all she needed was a story. One that would see a woman, not so dissimilar from Hynes herself, driven to enter the ring and learn how to fight for herself – both literally and metaphorically.
She says: ‘I wanted to create convincing female character who could almost be a bit like a kind of middle aged, female Rocky. What would be the background and the story of a woman who was driven to get into the boxing ring?
‘Inevitably, I began to think about female rage, about toxic female rage and those cycles of dysfunction that then became the story of Tina and to try and flesh that out as realistically and as believably as possible and create stories and characters that facilitated that idea.’
Boxing films have long since been a staple of sports cinema. The catch, of course, is that the vast majority feature white, muscular American men in testosterone fuelled rivalries. When it comes to women boxers, only a handful come to mind. Most famously, there’s Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby – a film that was very much on Hynes’ mind during production.
‘I was deliberately not making a film about a very rich, fit, athletic boxer. It was important to me that she looked normal and ordinary, like a real person, which I hoped would make her more relatable to most of us who don’t look like Hilary Swank.’
Though most will know Hynes for her work in comedy – in person, she’s every bit as warm and funny as you would hope – The Fight is very much a straight drama.
Contemplating the move, Hynes suggests that it was the lack of a major studio behind the film that allowed her to stray from her comic roots.
‘I think because it was quite low budget and because I was given creative freedom and opportunity to really do what I want, I wasn’t steered in a comic way. More often than not I am, because of my comedy background, so I think the freedom I had allowed me to create a drama. And that’s what felt natural and right as I was plotting it and creating the story and the characters.’
It would be wrong, however, to suggest that The Fight is an entirely fraught affair. Comedy prevails in the film’s human interactions, both between the bigger named cast – including Sally Philips and Alice Lowe – and also the Folkestonites Hynes hired for smaller roles. Locality and place are central to the film and so, naturally, only Folkestone’s Silver Screen Cinema would do when it came to its premiere.
‘It’s a really beautiful old cinema. I remember getting the chance to go up into the projection room at the screening,’ she tells me.
‘It was like a total Cinema Paradiso moment when I was up in this tiny projection room with these huge metal, old projectors that are still there in Folkestone – obviously not used – and there are all these old reels everywhere and I was looking down thinking oh my god, we’re about to screen my film, that we made here. It was a real goosebump moment. I did think: I’m going to remember this moment cos it’s never going to get any better than this.’
That was, however, only the beginning of the film’s journey, with a UK tour about to start.
‘It’s great that more people are seeing it and I’m really looking forward to travelling up and down and meeting everyone at the Q&As and getting feedback. It seems like a really good way to share this film. It is quite an intimate film, it’s a little film, and it’s just lovely that it’s having a life. It’s lovely that people are seeing it and taking things from it. I’m thrilled with all of it.’
But the best news? On the very night of our interview, Folkestone’s Silver Screen is showing just two films: Marvel’s latest hit Captain Marvel and Hynes’ own The Fight.
‘Do you know what? That feels good.’
Bless Jessica Hynes.
Photo credits: Gareth Gatrell