A new film exploring the life of the eccentric Sunderland artist Audrey Amiss was given a special screening in her home city as part of a day exploring breaking down barriers to careers in the creative sector.
The film’s title Typist Artist Pirate King refers to the occupation Amiss (played by Monica
Dolan) wrote on her passport. Written and directed by Carol Morley, the narrative imagines
a roadtrip to Sunderland with the artist’s psychiatric support nurse (Kelly McDonald) as
The screening, organised by Sunderland Shorts and Sunderland Culture with support from
RTS North East and the Borders, attracted a capacity crowd.
In the Q&A which followed, the director spoke about the mental health and religious
themes which led to Amiss dropping her studies at the Royal Academy and settling on a
career as a typist with the civil service. She died aged 79 in 2013 but recognition of her work
as an artist came after her death.
“During my visits to Sunderland and to her archive at the Wellcome Collection, I became
even more fascinated by Audrey,” Morley told the audience at the new Fire Station venue in
Sunderland. “I also met with her surviving relatives, her few friends and those she had gone
to art school with. And having discussed art and mental health with psychologists,
psychiatrists and mental health users, I became convinced that the film had to be fiction
rather than documentary.”
The production, which has an all-female creative team and heads of department, also stars
Gina McKee as Amiss' sister, Dorothy, who met with Morley but sadly died before the film’s
release. After reading the screenplay she wrote “thank you for bringing my Audrey back.”
Morley explained filming took place in London, Yorkshire and Sunderland. On location in
Sunderland she was inspired by the locations and introduced the audience to two ukulele
players who she had spotted performing on the seafront. Both men were quickly written
into the script and are seen and heard playing in one of the scenes.
The feature, supported by BBC Films and the BFI, was screened as part of a day of activities
at the Fire Station which saw 200 students and staff from the five North East universities
(Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria, Sunderland and Teesside) take part in a series of
presentations about breaking down the barriers to prepare for careers in the screen sector.
Among the speakers were RTS Head of Education Emma Nicholson, bursary student Saleem
Miah and chief executive of North East Screen Alison Gwynn. Students were urged to look at
all the roles and careers opening up in the sector. TV and film production in the North East is
on the increase thanks to an initial £25million investment by the BBC. For those students
who stayed on to join the audience for the screening, the end credits provided an example
of the range of skills involved in making a feature.
Saleem, a second year film-making student at Manchester Metropolitan University, told his
fellow students about the advantages of becoming an RTS bursary scholar – not least the
chance to be mentored by Sue and Debbie Vertue at Hartswood Films, producers of Sherlock.
He advised students to join the RTS and consider applying for a bursary. He said: “If you find
yourself in a room with people who might help you get a job, swallow your shyness and
embarrassment. Go and introduce yourself, talk to them. It’s not daunting because in the
end we are all working towards the same vision – having a diversity of voices and stories on
Artist Typist Pirate King with its focus on a central character diagnosed with bipolar disorder
and paranoid schizophrenia, certainly illustrates that unconventional characters and
narratives resonate with audiences.