A fictional band that owes a lot to Belle and Sebastian
In the film God Help the Girl, three teenage misfits cross paths in Glasgow, agree that music is their salvation and form a band. So far, so Stuart Murdoch, who took a break from his real-life band to make his directorial debut
Hannah Murray as Cass, Olly Alexander as James, and Emma Browning as Eve in ‘God Help the Girl’
Stuart Murdoch: ‘Nobody could have really directed it apart from me, because I wanted every frame to illustrate what the songs were saying.’ Photograph: Michael Buckner/Getty Images
Three teenage misfits cross paths in Glasgow, agree that music is their salvation, and decide to form a band. Sound familiar, Belle and Sebastian fans? That’s because it comes directly from the mind of that band’s frontman, Stuart Murdoch. God Help the Girl is the 45-year-old’s writing and directorial debut. It was developed from an album of the same name in 2009, which he wrote with the intention of having mostly unknown female singers provide the vocals.
The genesis of the film stretches back to several years before the album was conceived, however. Considering its prolonged gestation period, is it fair to characterise it as a labour of love?
“The thing is, when you say ‘labour of love’, it sounds like I’ve been slaving away, but nothing could be further from the truth,” he chuckles, speaking from the “wee flat” in Glasgow that he uses as his office, where he wrote the film’s script. “I feel that I’ve served an apprenticeship; I wrote my first script, I wrote my first songs for other people, I wrote my first musical and became a director – and a producer as well, because I had to raise the money and all that stuff – so all of this was like having a dissertation in film-making. And dissertations sometimes take five or six years, so I feel armed and ready.”
Murdoch has fronted Belle and Sebastian since they formed in 1996. Despite directing the odd music video for friends, including Camera Obscura, a film career “was never a burning ambition”, he says. “But I’ve always found in life that you’ve always got to wait for that feeling that you can’t say no to: it just comes up and sweeps you along. And that’s what happened with [the main character] Eve and the film.”
Less daunting than an album
The idea of writing a script was less daunting than writing an album. “I would say that the four or five months that I wrote that script were possibly the happiest period of my life, in a kind of selfish way,” he says. “It was the first time that the band had downed tools for any significant period of time – this was in 2006 – because we’d been busy for 10 years. It was the first time that I could sit at a desk and let my imagination run riot.
“The scripting was new to me. At first I found it very easy, because to me, it was just people talking inside my head, and I wasn’t too concerned with plot. I just let them flock and ramble, those three characters. So I had a great time: to be honest, I didn’t work very hard. I would do an hour in the morning, and then I would spend a long time on my bicycle, or just out walking.”
Casting the film’s three main characters – Eve, a fragile young girl who escapes a psychiatric ward where she is receiving treatment for an eating disorder; James, a charmingly neurotic misfit musician who falls for her; and Cassie, their sweetly ingenuous friend – was the most crucial part of the process, says Murdoch.