FALL in you horrible lot…
Our Girl is a 90-minute drama on BBC1 at 9pm this Sunday.
Written by Tony Grounds and starring Lacey Turner, I highly recommend it.
A story of one young person’s struggle and hope for the future.
You can learn more in my story below, published the day after the London press launch earlier this month.
Followed by my transcript of the Q&A with Lacey, Tony and producer Ken Horn.
Edited to remove any really major spoilers.
EX-EastEnder Lacey Turner shed real tears when filming BBC1 Army drama Our Girl.
The former Albert Square actress plays new recruit Molly Dawes who trains to serve in Afghanistan.
Lacey, 25, wept while filming a scene in a military cemetery, part of a real war graves tour that all potential squaddies experience during their training.
Molly uses her mobile phone to call her mother and leaves an emotional voicemail while standing among the last resting place of the fallen.
“The scene in the graveyard was pretty much my imagination and my mum,” revealed Lacey.
She also thought of her mum for scenes where Molly has to write a “letter from the grave” to her parents, in case she is killed in action.
“I don’t know that I could write a letter like that. It was actually really tough. Just thinking about my mum while reading it was enough to take you to a sad place.”
Tears flowed when the cast filmed their fictional Passing Out Parade at the Army Training Centre in Pirbright, Surrey.
Lacey and other cast members marched alongside 200 real trainees doing a final parade ground rehearsal on the eve of their own big day when they finally became soldiers.
“That was the scariest moment of my life so far. Because I felt if I put a foot wrong, it was their real rehearsal.
“As I walked on to the Passing Out Parade I was actually crying with fear because I felt like it was just going to go like dominoes and it was all going to be my fault.
“But luckily I had a girl in front and behind and they were mouthing things out of the bottom of their mouth. Just little hints. It was amazing.”
One Army General even mistook Lacey and other actors for real soldiers and congratulated them.
Explained Lacey: “It happened quite a lot because we were in the same uniform. Someone would just come up and shout at you before you had a chance to say, ‘I’m with the BBC.’”
One of five children, bleached blonde Molly works in an East London nail bar and fears a dead end future is all mapped out for her.
But she decides to train to join the Royal Army Medical Corps after throwing up outside an Army recruitment office on her 18th birthday.
Written by award-winning Tony Grounds, the one-off 90-minute drama shows her journey through training to active service as an Army combat medic in Afghanistan.
Tony explained: “I wanted to write a film about hope and the potential in all young people. But it’s not a recruiting video.”
Lacey admitted: “I thought I was quite fit and then when I got to the training centre I realised I wasn’t.
“I said to one of the Corporals, ‘I thought I was quite fit.’ And she said, ‘There’s civilian fit and Army fit.’
“So I did a lot of fitness training and spent hours marching round the car parks in Borehamwood, which was fun.
“Weapon training, assault courses – we did lots of different training. I really enjoyed it.”
She added: “I did lose a bit of weight and tone up. I think it was a bit of a shock to the system.
“But the food there is just carbs. It’s my favourite things like sausage, chips and beans and shepherd’s pie.
“We ate like animals every lunchtime. At the end I was dying for a lettuce leaf.”
Lacey said she had total respect for everyone in the Army but could not do the job for real.
“I’d like to do the training but I don’t know that I’d ever get on the plane to actually go. I don’t think I’m brave enough.
“It’s such an amazing thing that they do. They risk so much and I’m not that brave. But I did really enjoy the training.
“You got to play with rifles and swing off bars and meets loads of different people.
“I waited weeks to fire a gun. It was brilliant. I wasn’t allowed live rounds. But it was fun. Something you don’t really get to do that often.
“I might take it up.”
Our Girl is on BBC1 at 9pm on Sunday March 24.
Post-screening Q&A / press conference with Lacey Turner (Molly), writer Tony Grounds and producer Ken Horn:
Q: What was going through all the training like, Lacey?
Lacey Turner: “It was great actually. There were so many different types of training. Just basic fitness. I thought I was quite fit and then when I got there I actually realised that I wasn’t very fit. And I said to one of the Corporals, ‘I thought I was quite fit.’ And she said, ‘There’s civilian fit and Army fit.’ So I did a lot of fitness training and spent hours – well we all did – marching round car parks in Borehamwood, which was fun. Weapon training, assault courses – we did lots of different training. It was great. I really enjoyed it.”
Q: Lacey – you were virtually in every scene. What was that like for you?
Lacey Turner: “It was fun. There was no waiting around. (laughter) I didn’t really get a minute to sit down. So it’s good because when you’re working such long hours, it’s easier to actually just keep going. When you get a bit of a break you want to go to sleep. So it was quite good, actually, being in every scene.”
Q: Can I ask Tony where the idea for this came from and also what the research process was like?
Tony Grounds: “First of all, I wanted to write a film about hope and about the potential in all young people. And often young disenfranchised people. So that was where the starting idea came from. I then happened to have a friend who was in the Army and I went with him to Colchester, where he was doing some stuff. There were lots of female soldiers there and I said, ‘The female soldiers, how quickly can they get out to Afghanistan?’ And he said, ‘Well, an 18-year-old can if they join the Royal Army Medical Corps because you do your 14-week basic and 24-week Phase 2 training. We had this one girl came in and she was as wild as a feral cat. She came in and she turns out to be one of the best combat medical technicians we’d ever known in Afghanistan. So this wild kid came in and now she’s there, she’s calling in the Chinooks, she’s tourniqueting people…’ So that was where the first idea came from. And then I met up with (executive producer) John Yorke (at the time BBC Controller of Drama Production) when he was at the BBC and he said, ‘I don’t suppose you’ve got anything for Lacey Tuner?’ I said, ‘Do you know what? I think I might have.’ And so that was where the original idea came from. Then I spent about a year going round to all the different Army camps. We went to Deepcut and Pirbright. Fortunately because I’ve got a friend who was in the Army and he happened to be Captain of the Army rugby team and captain of the Combined Services and he actually captained the Barbarians. So this gave him great access because he’s still a bit of a local hero in the different Army camps and still knows everybody because his contemporaries are still there. So I was able to get in. And although that particular girl he was talking about, I never met her – but they all keep diaries as Lacey knows…so all the recruits come in and keep diaries. So he said, ‘If any of them want to show you their diary, that’s fantastic.’ Of course they were all so willing. I had this big pile of diaries on their Basic Training and Phase 2 Training. So I just took those away with me and was able to go through all the diaires. Then I created Molly Dawes. And especially now I’d got Lacey in my mind, knowing how emotionally intelligent she is as a performer, I was then able to start to create this person.”
Q: And these diaries came from recruits at Colchester or Pirbright?
Tony Grounds: “Yeah. They’d gone all over. It was Deepcut. Now the training is done at Pirbright. But the Army changes their systems quite often. But it used to be Deepcut, as I’m sure you’ll know, and then Phase 2 was at Colchester.”
Q: (From me as it happens) Lacey – did you know much about Army life before you got this project and did you do any of your own research?
Lacey Turner: “I didn’t actually know anything at all, really. But we were all really lucky – the Army were so great in letting us go up there (Pirbright Army Training Centre)…because it is such tight security and you have to be followed everywhere. you go. But they were great. They let me up there whenever I wanted to go up. And I came up about a month before we started shooting and I was able to talk to some of the girls there and have a flick through their diaries and stuff like that. So most of my research really came from just observing up there because there’s something going on all the time. Constantly people marching past – there’s always someone doing something. So it mainly came from just being allowed to wander around Pirbright.”
Q: The drama itself was quite ambiguous about whether the Army is cult or family. I wondered, Lacey, if you had a view on that having played the part?
Lacey Turner: “For me, not knowing anything about the Army, I thought the Army was just really tough and you go and do your training and then off you go to war. And actually being there and talking to the people that were there, it all makes sense now. They are tough and they do scream and shout and your locker does have to be immaculate. But it does actually make sense. Because if you can’t keep a locker tidy then as a medic you’ve got a split second to make a decision about where you’re going – and if you’re not organised then when you go to war, how can you be?”
Tony Grounds: “What the Corporals are doing when…the soldier whisperers as they call themselves…is what they’re doing is trying to save the lives of the recruits when they become soldiers. So they’re trying to make sure that they come back. That’s what they’re doing. And it might seem hard…it’s difficult because, of course, it is a family and they regard themselves as a family. If you’re not a part of that family you might look at it and think it’s a cult. But everybody’s got to be drilled. You can’t dither. As the guy says, ‘You dither on a landmine and it’s not a good place to dither.’ So it’s all to do with that training.”
Q: Tony – you mentioned Deepcut which obviously has a resonance of a very different kind, given what happened there. This is a very powerful…but it’s also quite a positive portrait of the Army. Were you anxious about making a sort of a recruiting video and did you feel any of the negative dimensions about Army life?”
Tony Grounds: “It’s obviously not a recruiting video. We were just able to shoot on an active Army camp. So you’re seeing the actual Army. When those girls are coming in they’re being trained in that facility.”
Ken Horn: “The only involvement they (the Army) had was from a factual point of view, to make sure that the training we were doing is what they do. They had no editorial control over what we did. They understood it was a drama. That was the only way we could do it. In no way did we want to make a recruitment video for the Army.”
Q: Were you quite impressed by your experience with the Army?
Tony Grounds: “I think the thing is, is that the kids that they get in – and obviously the situation at Deepcut – is this isn’t Sandhurst. The kids they’re getting in as these raw recruits at Pirbright are kids that had often had a lot of problems with education, often been in trouble with the law, episodes of alcohol or drug abuse. These are the kids that often have no other option but to come there. So they are a group that need careful handling. Now if you’re saying – do they train them well? They have to train them well because of the situation they’re going into now with Afghanistan. But obviously the resonance of Deepcut – it’s like everything else in society, things are changing all the time and you learn things. The situation which was happening in Deepcut where young soldiers lost their lives…one of the Corporals said to me, ‘There’s a lot of kids killing themselves on the street.’ And there were some instances in the Army which they don’t want to happen again. So now they don’t shout at the weak one, they shout at the strong one in each section, in an attempt to bring up the weak ones. So the strong ones are the ones that have to help carry them through. But it’s hopeful…it’s a hard call. I want to be hopeful about that there is a potential in every young person to do something brilliant. I wanted to make it hopeful about the individual rather than hopeful about saying, ‘Let’s have National Service.’”
Q: Lacey – if you did have to do this, what was it like writing a letter from the grave and do you think you could actually have been a soldier in real life having now gone through the training process, or part of it?
Lacey Turner: “I’d like to do the training but I don’t know that I’d ever get on the plane to actually go. I don’t think I’m brave enough. It’s such an amazing thing that they do. They risk so much and I’m not that brave. But I did really enjoy the training. I don’t know that I could write a letter like that either. It was actually really tough, just thinking about my mum whilst reading it was enough to take you to a sad place.”
Tony Grounds: “But you do doff your hat to those kids that are going out there. That’s one thing – you do totally respect those people that are going out there.”
Q: Which side of Molly you preferred playing, the blonde, drinking one or the Army one?
Lacey Turner: “The Army one. That was much more fun. Because you got to play with rifles and swing off bars and meets loads of different people. I waited weeks to fire a gun. It was brilliant. I wasn’t allowed live rounds, so I didn’t really get a kickback or anything. But it was fun. Something you don’t really get to do that often. I might take it up.”
Q: (Me again) Just further to what you said, Lacey, a moment ago about the letter…the tears in the graveyard – it might be a testament to your acting abilities but they looked very real on screen. How did you approach that and what were you thinking of? And also did you speak to any recruits or anybody else about the prospect of going out somewhere and perhaps not coming back again?
Lacey Turner: “Yeah, I did. The scene in the graveyard was pretty much just my imagination and my mum. That’s the root of that scene. (Filmed at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey, close to Pirbright Army Training Centre) I got to speak to a group of girls who were seven weeks into their training. You ask people, ‘Why do you join the Army?’ There were about 20-sometning girls and some of their reasons, like Tony said…they’re not from great backgrounds, some of them don’t have very much opportunity. Some of them come from a family of military people. So it was a good mix of people. So I got to pick different bits from different girls to create Molly.”
Tony Grounds: “And that’s all part of the training. They do the war graves tour. And I think because Lacey…talking about her emotional intelligence, I think she so hones into the part that the tears are real because she’s in that part at that moment. Like all good actors.”
Q: (Me again. Sorry.) And the Passing Out Parade? Was that filmed at the same time as a real Passing Out Parade? How was it filmed?
Ken Horn: “We did it over two days. They allowed us to place Lacey and a couple of the other actors in the middle of them and march on to the parade ground. And we intercut that with the real Passing Out Parade the next day. But I think you guys (Lacey) said that’s the most frightening thing you’ve ever done?”
Lacey Turner: “Yes. That was the scariest moment of my life so far, in the 25 years that I’ve been alive that was definitely the scariest. Because I felt like, if I put a foot wrong. It was their real rehearsal. (200 of them) As I walked on to the passing out parade I was actually crying with fear because I felt like it was just going to go like dominoes and it was all going to be my fault. But luckily I had a girl in front and behind and they were mouthing things out of the bottom of their mouth. Just little hints.”
Tony Grounds: “Matthew McNulty (who plays Corporal Geddings) had to lead his line and it was fantastic. Because he was the cock of the north all the way through. And then they said, ‘Right, you’re leading the line now.’ His legs went – but he actually led them out. Which shows how much drill they’d had to do.”
Lacey Turner: “It was amazing. That’s one of those things…I’ll never get to be in a Passing Out Parade ever in my life because I don’t want to be a soldier. But it was good to be part of a rehearsal.”
Q: Is it right that the Army didn’t know that Lacey or Matthew were in the real Passing Out Parade?
Ken Horn: “One of the generals the next day, he mistook our actors for soldiers. And he congratulated them.”
Lacey Turner: “It happened quite a lot because we were in the same uniform. Someone would just come up to you and shout at you. And before you had a chance to say, ‘Well, I’m with the BBC….’”
Q: Lacey – did you lose any weight by going through the training process? Did you tone up very much?
Lacey Turner: “I did actually. I think it was a bit of a shock to my system. I did lose a bit of weight and I did tone up. But the food there – it’s just carbs. It’s my favourite things like sausage, chips and beans and shepherd’s pie. We ate like animals every lunchtime. At the end I was dying for a lettuce leaf.”
Q: (Final one from me) Tony – are you happy with the amount of West Ham references you managed to get in? Was it difficult to get that location (Molly’s family home overlooking the Boleyn Ground)?
Tony Grounds: “You can see (the home) from my season ticket seat. And I’m obviously from there. So I know the terrain…it’s quite interesting, when I’m writing it I’ve got the geography in my mind and then having been to Pirbright, then I start writing for Pirbright.”
Q: The issue of areas like this being multi-cultural and people joining the Army to fight in Muslim countries?
Tony Grounds: “East Ham, obviously, is a predominantly Muslim area now and the demographic changes slightly from Asian and Eastern European Muslims as well. But no, that doesn’t really arise in East Ham because I think there are so few people that are joining the military from there. I guess it’s an extraordinary situation. But there’s certain frictions. But as Molly Dawes says in her speech, that when East Ham works, it works brilliantly. It’s absolutely fantastic and it’s the greatest place on the Earth to live. And when it feels powder-keggy and it feels like it’s going to blow, then it’s the worst place in the world to live.”
Q: Is there the potential for a series here?
Tony Grounds: “Yeah, definitely. And it’s definitely something that I’d love to do. That idea of those recruits coming in and the potential that you’ve got…it’s so fascinating. Each of those kids has got a story. Every one of those 400 kids that are coming in every few weeks is a potential story.”
Q: Has the BBC indicated whether they’d like a series or is it too early to say?
Tony Grounds: “I guess they’ll see what happens when it goes out. They wait and see the reaction. And if people love it, I guess we get taken out for a Cup-a-Soup somewhere…”
Pirbright Army Training Centre