SHE’S won a slew of awards but May Miles Thomas decided to make her latest film with no funding, no crew and a cast of only one.

Voyageuse will receive its premiere at Glasgow Film Festival and Thomas believes it’s one of the few wholly Scottish narrative feature films to be made in years. After a private screening in London recently, she says the audience were in awe of what she has achieved.

“The reaction was great,” she said. “There was amazement because it’s a completely handmade film, creatively and technically. It’s got the shortest credit list of any film. Anyone who’s watched the end credits of any film knows what that means.”

It seems bizarre that such a renowned filmmaker should have to struggle on without funding but as Thomas told The National: “The climate for finance is tough but especially so for indigenous film.”

After years working for BBC Television and as a freelance director in London, she returned to Scotland where her production company, Elemental Films has produced four feature films.


THOMAS points out that despite the increasing number of film courses, they are not resulting in more Scottish-led films being made.

“We’ve got more film, TV and media courses than you can shake a stick at here but the issue of homegrown production has been hijacked by the debate over building a studio. Of course, it would be great if that facility was there but it would be aimed at incoming films attracted by financial incentives, tax breaks and the current exchange rate.

“It’s lamentable because there’s a lot of writing and directing talent in Scotland, but with few prospects. There’s room for high-end TV and film productions but it’s at the expense of those who hope to build a career.

“Film should be an international platform for Scotland’s culture but we’re being denied our own voice, which undermines confidence. We have stories to tell but too often they’re seen through the lens of outsiders.

“There’s no strategy for developing and sustaining homegrown talent, so people have no choice but to quit or leave. We need a radical shake-up.”


VOYAGEUSE will screen at the GFF on March 1 and will be followed by a Q&A session with the filmmaker and veteran actress Dame Sian Phillips, who came on board because she was attracted by Thomas’ script.

Thomas points out that Voyageuse is a rare instance of a film made by two women with a combined age of more than 140 years. “Sian is a force of nature – she’ll be 85 this year and recently finished a theatre tour of Driving Miss Daisy,” says Thomas.

“When we first met I couldn’t keep up with her. She pulled a copy of my screenplay from her handbag and said, ‘I have a lot of questions for you’. She says she’s excited about coming to Glasgow for the premiere.”

In Voyageuse, described by Thomas as a mix of “romance, science and conspiracy”, Phillips plays Thomas’s late mother-in-law, Erica Thomas.

Drawing on Erica’s vast archive of personal film and photographs, with a compelling performance by Phillips, the film depicts Erica and her family’s role in the most profound events of the 20th century: The Second World War, the Cold War and the decline of the British Empire.


THERE are several themes in the film which are currently very topical. One is the experience of being a migrant to the UK. Born in Hungary in 1933, Erica fled with her family to England on the eve of the Second World War. She was only five years old when she arrived yet, despite her private schooling and studies at Cambridge and Oxford, she struggled to become accepted.

“She always felt herself to be an outsider and I felt this idea of a migrant’s experience when we are trying to shut the doors is prescient,” says Thomas.

Highly intelligent, in the 1950s Erica pursued a career in the experimental field of behavioural research. In this male-dominated world she was exposed to experimental forms of medical and psychiatric treatment, leading to a series of jobs that reflected the threatening Cold War zeitgeist; clandestine work conducted in laboratories and hospitals, underwritten by the government.


“IN the film Erica expresses frustration about being a woman working in a scientific field”, says Thomas. “But in the post-Second World War era she struggled with the choice between love and marriage and having a career.”

Soon after arriving in Edinburgh in 1959 to work at the university, Erica finally met the love of her life, physics lecturer Dr Gwynne Meyler Thomas.

“Judging by the reaction at the private screenings, people find Voyageuse moving. Especially as Siân plays the role with great dignity – it’s not sentimental at all,” Thomas says.

To make the film, which Thomas describes as being more a“psychobiography” than a biopic, she followed in Erica’s footsteps, documenting all the places where she lived, studied and worked. She also drew on Erica’s archive of photographs and family films. At a time when our lives are documented on smartphones it was rare to have exclusive access to a collection dating back 100 years,” says Thomas. “The BFI Film and TV Archive spent more than two years preserving the early films and I spent a year cataloguing and scanning the photographs.”

For Thomas, making Voyageuse was always a passion: “My aim was to recreate Erica’s state of mind and to understand what it means when the future is outweighed by the past; a prospect faced by us all.”

For more information, see www.voyageuse.co.uk