Kate Winslet, Mia Threapleton and Dominic Savage discuss the making of I Am Ruth

Kate Winslet, Mia Threapleton and Dominic Savage discuss the making of I Am Ruth

By Shilpa Ganatra,
Thursday, 9th March 2023
I am Ruth. Credit: BBC
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon

The RTS hears how Kate Winslet and Dominic Savage collaborated to create a heartbreaking story of a mother’s struggle with her alienated teenage daughter.

If you’ve seen it, you’ll know. The impact of Dominic Savage’s anthology series I Am… depends on something beyond even its roster of acclaimed female leads – luminaries such as Samantha Morton, Letitia Wright and Leslie Manville. It’s also the way each self-­contained episode devastates with its all-too-­realistic vignette of the female experience told in a way that teases out the very best from these talented actors. It could be mental health, toxic relationships or middle-age invisibility. 

Even so, the newest addition to the fold, the first feature-length edition since Channel 4 began screening the series in 2019, hits a different note. As with all the I Am… episodes, I Am Ruth saw Savage write the story with its lead actor, on this occasion Kate Winslet.

It’s often said that women are best placed to tell women’s stories but Savage, who is also the director, cultivates the female perspective at the heart of the story. At an RTS event examining “I Am Ruth Q&A”, Savage said: “I made a film with Gemma Arterton [The Escape], and I remember someone asking her what was it like, with a man making a female film. She said, ‘Well, Dominic isn’t like most men’, which I took as a great compliment. Perhaps that’s why I make them – because I’m not like most men.”

The topic of Winslet’s episode is ostensibly “the effects of social media”. But it’s so much more: it sensitively illustrates the loneliness of single parenting and the realities of anxiety and depression. 

Explaining how their collaboration began, Winslet told the RTS, “Dominic initially sat down with me and said, ‘Tell me, what is something people wouldn’t expect you to be passionate about? Or is there something that means a great deal to you that perhaps you haven’t experienced within any role that you have played?’”

That’s when Winslet, a mother of three, picked up on the shift in dynamics that social media has engendered within the family. “As parents today, we are faced with these challenges, where you sometimes look at your child and think, ‘You are worlds away from where I’d hoped you might be mentally right now, and I don’t know what to do to help you or best support you’,” she said. “I think we wanted to honestly open up that conversation, because it’s a very strange thing, as parents, when you’re on a white-knuckle ride for a moment and you think, ‘My God, I wish there was a manual. How do we do this?’”

This fresh perspective on a common subject (think Black Mirror and Years and Years) has made it resonate profoundly. “Every single one of the friends who came to our screening said, ‘That’s me’,” said Winslet. “We were lost for Kleenex, there was just not enough to go around. We were able to capture what it feels like as a mother, and show it in a way that was both sincere and messy – because being a parent is really fucking messy sometimes.”

Dominic Savage, Kate Winslet, Mia Threapleton and Krish Majumdar speaking to the RTS.

Savage fleshed out their conversations into a script, which included directions and actions, but not dialogue. Filming then took place in chronological order, with improvised dialogue on an intimate set. For even greater authenticity, Winslet plays mum to Freya, the character of her real-life daughter, Mia Threapleton, (Dangerous Liaisons, Shadows).

Krish Majumdar, producer of the series for Me+You Productions, explained that it made shooting challenging. “My main job is to create this hermetically sealed space where Dominic can work with Mia, Kate and the actors,” he said. “It’s all in the pursuit of authenticity and truth, and that creates an atmosphere in which they can create something different and special.

“As there’s improvisation, the takes are very long – some of the takes are 20 minutes, 30 minutes.”

Threapleton recalled that the longest take was 58 minutes. “I will never forget that as long as I live,” she said. “That was the scene where we first meet Freya, and she is in front of her mirror trying on different outfits. It was so long that we had to stop in the middle, change the camera battery, and then keep going again.”

Although the 22-year-old had the right credentials for the role of Freya, she still had to meet Savage to audition. Said Majumdar: “It was all done properly, and there was separation between them knowing each other.”

Added Winslet: “I wouldn’t have wanted it for her if it was her first job, because I would have absolutely understood people saying, ‘Oh, it’s nepotism.’ People are going to say those things anyway – one just has to tune it out –but, for me, the most important thing is that she doesn’t need me to do the job that she is capable of doing.”

Threapleton’s performance as a troubled teen proved a hit. When the episode aired in December 2022, Radio Times echoed many of the other reviews when it wrote, “It could go so badly wrong. But, from the moment she appears on screen, Threapleton puts those fears to rest.” It helped that she had first-hand knowledge of the issues that play out in the drama – social media pressures and, primarily, experience of teenage anxiety.

Threapleton explained that, for her, it began at 18: “A lot of that anxiety did actually come from my phone. I didn’t have any social media on it but it was connected to lots of other different things. I had legitimate anxiety, for which I did, genuinely, have to go to a mental health professional. It was really, really hard. And I was also dealing with A-Levels, and I just wanted to be done. I know what it’s like, having panic attacks randomly at lunchtime,” she said.

That experience also informed ­Winslet’s depiction of Ruth, particularly around her denial of their problem. “One of Mia’s wonderful teachers did say to me, ‘It’s anxiety. She has got anxiety.’ I absolutely remember saying, ‘No, she hasn’t’. She took my hand and she said, ‘I’ve seen it many times before. She has anxiety.’ I had to acknowledge that this was something we were about to enter into and would fix. Fortunately, we were able to. 

“Mia and I have always been fortunate in having a close relationship, so it wasn’t something that came about as a result of something I had done, but I had nevertheless missed it. It was important for us to show how, as parents, we do miss it. We do say the wrong thing.”

With the I Am… series continuing to gain momentum with time, Savage promises that other dramas will follow suit. “I’ll keep trying to make female stories for as long as I can,” he said. “The men have had their go, haven’t they? The men have had enough stories about them.”

Added Majumdar: “The great dramatist Tony Garnett said to me that, when you get to his age, you want to look back on your career [and find a] film that mattered, that said something to society. Most people won’t be lucky enough to make one. I really believe this is one of them. When we all grow old, we’ll all look back at this and say, this was really special.”

Report by Shilpa Ganatra. The RTS national event ‘I Am Ruth Q&A’ was held on 28 February. The producer was Mira Ryness, publicity lead for scripted (drama and comedy) at Channel 4.

You are here