Finding Your Feet – An inspirational story set around a seniors’ dance class

In this heart-warming modern comedy a colourful group of defiant and energetic ‘baby boomers’ show that retirement is only the beginning.

The moving and inspirational story behind Finding Your Feet was born from real life. Screenwriters and producers Nick Moorcroft and Meg Leonard were inspired by a theatre group in the UK to create a fictional story set around a seniors’ dance class.

Moorcroft and Leonard sent their idea to producing partners John Sachs and Andrew Berg, who immediately saw its potential. “The writers had the great idea of setting their story and their characters within this environment,” notes Sachs. “I totally got it and I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Given the pan-generational popularity of shows like Strictly Come Dancing, the producers could see that the story would not only strike a chord with the grey-pound generation, but had the potential to reach out across all ages. “It felt in the same vein as something like [The Best Exotic] Marigold Hotel,” says Berg.

Fellow producer Charlotte Walls agrees. “The story has a fantastic message for us all,” she says. “Its primary focus is on people of a certain age but its reach is far beyond that. It is about giving life a second chance and I think that message will chime with all audiences.”

When ‘Lady’ Sandra Abbott (Imelda Staunton) discovers that her husband of forty years is having an affair with her best friend, she seeks refuge with her estranged, older sister Bif (Celia Imrie). The two could not be more different – Sandra is a fish out of water next to her outspoken, serial dating, free-spirited sibling.

But different is just what Sandra needs and she reluctantly lets Bif drag her along to her community dance class, where gradually she starts finding her feet… and romance.

In this hilarious and heart-warming modern comedy, a colourful group of defiant and energetic ‘baby boomers’ show Sandra that retirement is only the beginning, and that divorce might just give her a whole new lease of life – and love.

Finding Your Feet is directed by Richard Loncraine, the British filmmaker best known for Richard III, Wimbledon and television credits including Emmy-nominated The Gathering Storm and My House in Umbria.

It was penned by Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft (Urban Hymn, St. Trinian’s)

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The screenwriters

MEGMeg Leonard spent ten years working in Casting for film, television and theatre. During this period she produced the short film “Ten Minute Movie” starring John Simm and Jimi Mistry which won the Special Jury Award at Houston Film Festival and was nominated for Best Short Film at the Belfast Film Festival.

In 2014 she Executive Produced and Script Edited “Urban Hymn”. The film, Directed by Michael Caton-Jones and starring Shirley Henderson, Ian Hart, Steven Macintosh and  ‘Screen Star of Tomorrow’, Letitia Wright, was selected for the Toronto International Film Festival and won best film at the Giffoni Film Festival in Italy. Letitia Wright was nominated for ‘Best Newcomer’ at the British Independent Film Awards for her performance in the film.  The film was released in America on May 17th, 2017 where it was New York Times critics pick of the week.

In 2015 Meg co-founded the production company, Powder Keg Pictures, with Nick Moorcroft and city financier, John Stevens. “Finding Your Feet” is the companies first production. The film, co-written with Nick Moorcroft, marks her debut as a screenwriter and is the first feature length film Meg has produced.

NICKNick Moorcroft old his first spec script, “Burke and Hare” to Barnaby Thompson’s Fragile Films which featured on The Brit List in 2007. The list, which honors the most liked and recommended unproduced screenplays in the UK and Ireland, earned him a number of commissions with Columbia Pictures, working with U.S producers John Lesher and Neil Moritz.

In 2007 he co-wrote the screenplay for box office hit ‘St Trinian’s’ and the 2009 sequel, “St Trinian’s: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold” for Ealing Studios and Entertainment Distributors. In 2010 “Burke and Hare” was made, starring Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Tom Wilkinson and directed by iconic American Film Director, John Landis.

In 2014, he wrote and Executive Produced “Urban Hymn”. The film, Directed by Michael Caton-Jones and starring Shirley Henderson, Ian Hart, Steven Macintosh and  ‘Screen Star of Tomorrow’, Letitia Wright, was selected for the Toronto International Film Festival and won best film at the Giffoni Film Festival in Italy. Letitia Wright was nominated for ‘Best Newcomer’ at the British Independent Film Awards for her performance in the film.  The film was released in America on May 17th, 2017 where it was New York Times critics pick of the week.

In 2015 Nick co-founded the production company, Powder Keg Pictures, with Meg Leonard and city financier, John Stevens. “Finding Your Feet” is the companies first production. It is also the first film Nick has produced and co-written with Meg Leonard.

The story and characters

The story certainly chimed with celebrated director Richard Loncraine, who had no hesitation in agreeing to take on the project. “Films are mostly about script and casting,” he says. “It’s like pyramids. The base is what keeps it stable. The actors will have agreed because they like the script, and I did it because I loved the script.”

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Richard Loncraine

Though dancing plays a pivotal role in the story, he says, if the film is to succeed it’ll be down to the fact that it’s a story about real, believable people. “There are some sad bits and there are some very happy bits in this story,” he says.

“But really it is a film about people and they’re the best type of films. You really do care about these three people and you do fall in love with them. I think we have a film with real heart.”

The three people are Sandra (Imelda Staunton), Charlie (Timothy Spall) and Bif (Celia Imrie) and it is the former who stands at the very heart of the story.

Sandra is a rather uptight, very well-to-do member of the Surrey ‘tennis set’. She lives on a road lined with multi-million pound homes. “She has raised a family and has been there for her husband throughout his career as a policeman, in which he has reached Commissioner status,” explains Moorcroft. “She is the classic ‘woman behind the great man’,” adds Leonard.

Indeed, Sandra revels in the fact that her husband has recently been knighted, which is made apparent as the movie opens with a party to celebrate his retirement. Sandra has been planning their twilight years for the past three decades.

“That is where we started when we came upon the story,” continues Leonard. “It’s one of those stories where women lose their identity waiting to reinvent themselves, when they no longer need to support everyone else. That is where our film starts, on the eve of the retirement of her husband and what Sandra hopes will be the start of a new life that she has been planning for 35 years.”

But then the rug is pulled from beneath her. “She discovers that her best friend has been having an affair with her husband for the last five years,” continues Moorcroft, “and suddenly the future she had imagined is taken away from her. And that leads to the challenge, the dramatic question for the character, which is: will she recreate and rediscover herself?”

To play Sandra, the filmmakers turned to one of the most accomplished actresses working today; Imelda Staunton. “In my opinion, Imelda is probably the most versatile and talented actress we have in the UK,” says Sachs.

 

Staunton says that she responded to the part immediately. “It’s nice to play a part where I’m my own age,” she begins. “And it’s nice to see that people over a certain age do have a life; they do have heartbreak and they do have humour and they do have a future.

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“We’ve got the richness of people who have had a life but who can also have a lot more happening in their lives as they go on.”

With her life in turmoil, Sandra needs to get away from the horror of her predicament. But where will she turn? Her pride will not allow her to stay among her social set in Surrey. She must turn to her family, specifically her sister, Bif. The problem is that Bif is, on the surface, her polar opposite in every way. “Sandra rather thrusts herself on her sister,” notes Staunton. “Sandra is a bit bossy, and there’s plenty of bickering.”

Bif is very much a renegade, a maverick and something of a bon viveur. “She doesn’t give a damn about what other people think,” says Leonard, “whereas Sandra’s life has revolved around trying to keep up with the Joneses, gaining favour with the right people.”

Hence, Sandra is ill at ease when she turns up at Bif’s council flat on an East London estate. “At its heart this is a classic fish-out-of-water tale,” says Moorcroft. “Sandra is plunged into a new world which she finds incredibly difficult and which is really alien to her.”

It is not easy for Bif, either. “To begin with we see that they don’t have a lot of respect for one another and they are very judgemental and intolerant at the outset,” says Moorcroft. “And yet the sisters discover one another again, and they discover themselves through each other,” adds Leonard.

To bring Bif to life the filmmakers turned to celebrated stage and screen actress Celia Imrie, with whom Loncraine had worked on the Winston Churchill film The Gathering Storm. “Celia was the first person I cast,” the director says. “She is just a wonderful actress.”

Imrie and Staunton have known each other for many years, first working together on stage in Cabaret, as Kit Kat girls, back in 1978. “It was lovely to work again with Imelda,” says Imrie, “and they’re very interesting characters.

“I have three sisters myself and you can’t forget those formative years; they’ll always mould you,” she continues. “And in this story, being the eldest, Bif dares to push Sandra in a way she doesn’t want to go. Also, you can be much ruder to a sister than you would be to a new friend because you’ve got all that past history!”

As she gets to grips with her new existence, Sandra meets her sister’s friends, including her best mate Charlie, a pot-smoking antique furniture restorer, a jazz lover, who lives on a narrow boat in Maida Vale.

“There is a reason why he lives on the boat, having sold his house, which is a story that we reveal as the film goes on,” explains Moorcroft. “It is something that is kept a secret from everybody, except Bif, who is his confidante and his closest friend within the dance class they attend.”

Charlie has an ingrained cynicism. He sees the world out of necessity with a dry sense of humour. “He is a colourful character but he is quite private,” Leonard explains. “We slowly learn about his back story. And his initial reaction to Sandra is that she is preposterous!”

But, very slowly, their relationship thaws, and eventually, starts to heat up in a different way, as romance blossoms. “As in any classic romantic comedy,” says Leonard, “neither of them can imagine being together.”

Opposites attract. “And we had a lot of fun with that,” says Moorcroft, who along with Leonard looked at the classic films in the genre — Adam’s Rib, Bringing Up Baby, As Good As It Gets.

“You revel in the conflict and there is a lot of conflict,” he continues. “It takes a good hour before that relationship starts to form, where they recognize each other for the people that they are. Despite initially feeling as though they are opposites, they have in fact got a lot in common.”

For the role of Charlie, the filmmakers cast much-loved actor Timothy Spall. In fact, it was Loncraine who gave Spall his big break, casting him in his first film, the 1980 teleplay The Vanishing Army, just after he’d left RADA. Finding Your Feet is their fourth project together.

“Tim Spall is just a legend,” says Berg, “and as soon as we knew he liked the script, we knew we had our trio.”

 

Alongside Bif, Charlie’s other best mate is his narrow boat neighbour Ted, played by David Hayman. “Ted is an enigma, a Teddy Boy, an aging rocker,” says the actor. “His heyday would have been the ’50s or the ’60s. He is very lonely, having lost his wife within the last year.

“He and Charlie get together on their house boats, smoke a lot of dope and refuse to accept that the fading of the light is coming!”

Like Bif and Charlie, Ted is also a member of a seniors’ dance class — as is the memorable supporting character Jackie, played by Joanna Lumley. “Jackie was a professional barrister and was very good at doing divorces,” says Lumley of her role. “She has quite a bit of money, has been married five times, so is maybe not the easiest person to live with but is very feisty and she loves belonging to this dance club.”

The other notable member of the dance club is the instructor, Corrinna, played by Indra Ové. “She loves teaching the over-50s,” says the actress of her character, “and she gets very involved. It was really interesting because while I was learning the dances with the rest of the cast, I also had to watch the choreographers to see how they teach! It was great fun.”