A new Scottish feature film about a German Jewish refugee who finds herself working in a stately home belonging to aristocratic supporters of fascist leader Oswald Mosely has won an international Best Drama award. Stella, inspired by Cinderella, took the award at the Melech Tel-Aviv International Film Festival where it had its world premiere. And it has now been nominated for the Montreal Independent Film Festival – one of the most popular events of its kind. The makers of the film, which features Gary Lewis, Susan Vidler, Richard Hansell and Rufus Wright, are also in negotiation for UK distribution.
Beautiful period drama
Set in 1937 and filmed at Galloway House, it highlights a lesser known and dark moment in Scottish history – when Dumfries and Galloway became one of the main centres of support for Mosley and his British Union of Fascists. It is 1937 and Stella, a 20-year-old student at Oxford, has lost touch with her parents in Germany. She finds herself homeless and penniless but through the help of a school friend, lands a job as the German tutor at the House of Rig in Southwest Scotland. The Rig Family, Stella quickly learns, supports Oswald Mosley and the fascists and she must subvert her true identity in order to survive. At the same time, she befriends a young poet, Will, who is trespassing on the Rig’s land for the summer, living in a hut near Rig Bay. They form an immediate, deep romance. Will is determined to marry her, but when the Rig’s host a party to celebrate Oswald Mosley’s arrival, their eldest son returns home for the occasion … it turns out to be Will.
Stella’s true identity is discovered, and she has to choose between her old life or her new one. Gary Lewis, who lives in the region and whose credits include playing Colum MacKenzie in Outlander, said: “It was a joy to be a part of this film – the story is great, the location is stunning and everything else, from the camera work to the music, was excellent. Stella tells the story of a young German woman stranded in Scotland as the Nazis rise to power in Germany. The difficulties she faces echo those of desperate people today; refugees and asylum seekers trying to escape many horrors. Isolated and terrified for the fate of her family, she then encounters supporters of the Nazi’s racist ideology.”
The beautiful period drama, in which Edinburgh actor Oli Fyne plays Stella Deutch and Louis Hall is Will (the young man she falls in love with) is as relevant for today’s world as it is to the 1930s and 1940s. Oli said: “I was drawn to the character of Stella immediately. It’s still rare to have a strong female protagonist in a period drama, and that really excited me. Stella is strong in the authentic sense of the word, inherently flawed and brave in the face of struggle. Stella’s struggles with her mental health resonate deeply with me, as well as her fears of coming of age in a world that feels constantly insecure and unstable. I also share her love and passion for music, nature, and family. Embodying Stella and working with Jessica was a dream come true. It’s such fantastic and poignant project and I am thrilled to have been a part of it.”
Cinderella without the glass slippers
Writer and director Jessica Fox, who lives in Wigtown and is the granddaughter of holocaust survivors, said: “To have been named Best Drama at the international film festival where Stella had its world premiere was beyond our wildest dreams. And now we’ve been nominated for Montreal’s Independent Film Festival we hope to bring it to a much wider audience in the near future.”
While Stella is described as an adaptation of Cinderella, the inspiration is from the early versions in which there were no glass slippers or fairy godmother. Jessica said: “I never liked the story of Cinderella – her fairy godmother, the glass slippers or the fuss of the ball – until I heard the older folk versions. In these stories, Cinderella has no magical transformation. Instead, she flees her kingdom to find safety in another. She takes on a new name and identity. As a grandchild of holocaust survivors, who had to flee their homes, find new identities and keep only what they could carry, this Cinderella resonated. She wasn’t the fairy tale archetype, an epitome of goodness waiting to be rescued; she was a refugee, a survivor, heroic. This Cinderella, her story, was one I wanted to tell and one that is relevant to so many people forced to flee their homes today.”
Originally from the USA where her career included being a storyteller for NASA, Jessica moved to south-west Scotland where she has found success in TV, theatre, film and literature – her book Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets is being developed as a TV series by Endeavor Content. With Stella she wanted not only to create a compelling film blending historical reality with an ancient folk tale, but to celebrate the wealth of talent that exists in Scotland and Galloway.
Other members of the cast have praised the film and the story it tells. Susan Vidler, who plays Lady Rig, said: “This is a wonderful new take on the Cinderella story and I’m delighted to have been involved in a project that celebrates a young woman’s resilience and the power of love in the face of the evil that was overwhelming Europe and threatened the world. We need stories of this kind right now – perhaps more than at any time since the Second World War. It was also a real privilege to be part of the remarkable community which came together to create this film.”
The project was led by an entirely female production team and was also certified as a green production.
No international film release information is yet available. You can follow Stella on Twitter and Instagram @stellathemovie or see, www.stellathemovie.com.