Saint Maud director Rose Glass on how the Scarborough seafront gave her film a 'grander scale'

By her own admission, director Rose Glass had never spent much time in Yorkshire.

Thursday, 8th October 2020, 4:45 pm

Not until she settled on Scarborough, where she discovered the "magic combination" of everything she needed to shoot the outdoor scenes for her highly-anticipated debut feature film, Saint Maud.

While the North Yorkshire seaside town was chosen - picked over its coastal neighbours Whitby and Bridlington - in part for its ability to be made "un-placeable" on screen, the film itself is a distinctive modern horror and is receiving wide critical acclaim ahead of its release tomorrow.

It is about a young nurse and recent religious convert, Maud, who in the 31-year-old director's mind is "a little bit like a Catholic, English Travis Bickle", Robert De Niro's protagonist in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver.

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Morfydd Clark in Saint Maud. Credit: StudioCanal.

Played by Morfydd Clark, Maud develops an unsettling, obsessive relationship with Amanda, an ill former dancer of some fame portrayed by Jennifer Ehle.

It is an exploration of isolation and the need to connect with something, and Glass tells The Yorkshire Post that "even though the character ends up taking the audience in some weird, twisted places, my hope is that she is surprisingly and alarmingly relatable in some ways".

Scarborough, too, is meant to be relatable.

Asked why she chose the spot, Glass said: "I had always wanted to film something set in an English seaside town.

Rose Glass on set. Credit: StudioCanal.

"I think what I had in my head when I was writing was somewhere like Hastings, somewhere down south, but you know, a lot of English seaside towns have this kind of slightly weird, slightly nostalgic, faded glamour kind of vibe to them.

"The film's set in the present day but I wanted it to be a slightly un-placeable version of the present day, make it a bit more universal, [and have] a slightly fairytale kind of slant [to] the look and feel of it."

When preparing the film, she set out on a road trip to find the right place for outdoor shooting, passing up locations in Wales and the coastlines of her native Essex to work in Yorkshire.

She said: "Scarborough seemed to have the magic combination of everything we were looking for and just had a really great look to it.

"We went to Whitby and obviously that's beautiful and incredible, but because it's obviously that bit more familiar, and the sort of Dracula stuff is already set to it, it felt a little bit too oldy-worldy.

"What I liked about Scarborough is that the seafront particularly had this kitsch kind of retro vibe to it, but it doesn't feel like you've completely stepped back in time."

An Edwardian property in Highgate, London, was used to film the scenes at Amanda's house, while the off-season arcades and alleyways of Scarborough were used for exterior shots.

Those local to the area should look out for familiar faces, as fish and chip shop workers were drafted in as extras during filming last year.

Viewers will also see the mysterious Holbeck cliffs, South Bay Beach, scenes shot by the end of the pier near to the lighthouse, and along the amusements of Foreshore Road.

Production company StudioCanal is behind the film's UK release, but it has also been backed by A24, whose credits include similarly disturbing features such as The Witch and The Lighthouse.

But previous films made on the Yorkshire coast have also included those with darker themes, such as Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread at Robin Hood's Bay.

Chris Hordley, who works in production liaison and development for the agency Screen Yorkshire, said Saint Maud has been able to tap into the Gothic tradition of the region's coast.

"It can be beautiful seaside, it can be dark and brooding," he said.

Glass also spoke of the coast's cinematic qualities.

"Having any story set by the sea immediately gives the sort of visual world of the film this kind of elemental grander scale.

"[By using the] arcades and the neon lights, to be honest I was looking for that as a slight nod to Taxi Driver, of all things."

Much like Bickle, the unhinged anti-hero of the 1976 classic, Maud is "someone who's meant to find the outside world and reality basically quite an intimidating and uncomfortable place to be," said Glass.

"So whenever she left the house there had to be something a bit sort of edgy and intimidating. Having casinos and arcades in the background hints to decadence in quite a way."

She added: "I wanted the geography and layout of the place to all be very recognisable so it's like every time she walks through that seafront it's a place that's very familiar to her, she's just like another face in the crowd, like another local and there's this whole crazy story going on in her life that no one else has any idea about..."

Saint Maud is released in UK cinemas tomorrow.