From Burnley to the BBC: Dr Who writer to fulfil directing dreams with huge grant

Joy Wilkinson (right) has won a 20,000 grant from Bumble to make her new film, Ma'am. Credit: Getty/Hoda Davaine.
Joy Wilkinson (right) has won a 20,000 grant from Bumble to make her new film, Ma'am. Credit: Getty/Hoda Davaine.

From performing with Burnley Youth Theatre to producing scripts for the BBC's Dr Who, this Lancashire mum has never given up on her dreams.

Former Burnley woman Joy Wilkinson, now an honorary benefactor of the youth theatre, has scooped a £20,000 grant to make her new film, Ma’am.

Bumble, the female-led social networking app, has launched The Female Film Force to help more women fulfil their dreams of directing. This is because nearly three quarters of the winners at this year's Oscars were male (73%) while the nominees for Best Director at the Academy Awards, the BAFTAs, and the Golden Globes were also all male. Only five women have ever been nominated in the Best Director category at the Oscars in its 91 year history and only one has ever won it.

Joy, a former Habergham High School pupil, said: "It was mind-blowing to find out I'd won the grant because I'd applied on a little app on my phone and then thought nothing of it. The level of judging was astonishing and the fact we get to make our film is terrific.

"It feels incredible really. I've been toying with the idea of directing for a long time. I was interested in it in at college but I didn't think it was a job you could do. There are all sorts of things which restrict you from being in the industry. A lot of people have parents who are in it or are brought up around it so they have the confidence to do it.

"But if you're working-class or a black woman then the odds are set against you so the industry ends up with a tiny fraction of female directors. You're in a catch 22 situation. If you've not already made a film, you're seen as a risk, but if you have, then you're seen as less exciting. We need to break that mould. Bumble has been brilliant at that. It inspires you to have a go.

"It's really empowering. Often women need to be given that opportunity because as soon as you have that status, then you believe you can do it and raise your game. There's nothing like the actual doing of something to empower you. It's all about that first leap.

"Feeling like you're not alone on that journey is so important. The platform, the support, the mentoring, the network. They are all great. But despite all the challenges women face, there's a wave coming that will change things.

"There are great male film-makers out there but inevitably their take on a story will be different. And hopefully we female directors can bring some different faces to the fore."

Joy's film, Ma’am, offers a snapshot of Queen Victoria as you've never seen her before. A middle-aged mother of nine children, she's juggling marriage, family and a demanding career, all while suffering from post-natal depression.

When a doctor warns her against having sex in case it leads to a tenth baby, the royal spirals into a pit of depression. Despite this, Albert proposes a photo-shoot that will showcase their "perfect" family to the world.

"What I love about period drama is that it can give people an escape but the story will always relate to today's world," Joy added.

"When I was researching the Victorian Era I saw this photo of Queen Victoria with Albert and her children soon after their ninth baby. I read she had postnatal depression and it seemed like a way to tell a story about how we live now. We post pictures on Instagram of our perfect lives, and yet levels of anxiety and depression are increasing."

Joy's influences include Steven Soderbergh, the youngest solo director to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. His directorial breakthrough was indie drama Sex, Lies and Videotape, while other credits include biopic Erin Brockovich and crime drama Traffic, which won him the Academy Award for Best Director. Joy also looks up to Paul Thomas Anderson, whose films have been nominated for 25 Academy Awards, and Alan Clarke, whom she loves for his mix of grit, truth and humour.

Her own journey towards success began at Burnley Youth Theatre, where she was a member.

"That was a really good experience because it allowed me to develop my imagination," she said.

"They have a really open attitude to what you can do and it's a really ambitious place."

She went on to do film studies at college, writing essays about the likes of Arnold Swarzenegger, before switching to journalism at university. And she edited the Met Police newspaper, based in New Scotland Yard, and told real-life police stories, which she says allowed her to see "a lot of the real world".

Although she's always had a career in writing, it wasn't until she had children that she turned her love of fiction into a job, meeting female film-makers for the first time.

"I found myself telling other women to have a go at directing and in a way I was also telling myself to do it," she said.

"I thought, 'it's time to step up'. It does take a long time if you're not confident but I'm so glad I took a shot because now I'm in a good place with really good people around me."

And when Joy began sending off her plays to competitions, she landed a place in BBC Academy, where she worked on TV show, Doctors. She then wrote an episode of Dr Who, which was screened on BBC last year, and other credits include Land Girls, Casualty, Nick Nickleby and Holby City.

"It's really important that film-makers come from all backgrounds, not just privileged ones," she said.

"I'm driven to write about things that audiences in Burnley would want to see at the town's Reel Cinema. A lot of people want to make obscure festival films, which is laudable, but I want to take people on a real emotional journey with heart and warmth."