Tell it to the Bees – We catch up with the Ashworth Twins as part of the From Page to Screen Festival
Jessica and Henrietta make up the double act behind the film, Tell it to the Bees, an adaptation previewing at this year’s From Page to Screen Festival on Friday 25 April. We caught up with them before their screening:
We grew up believing we were identical but no-one did a test or anything, they just assumed. We haven’t done a DNA test either. Maybe we never will and it’ll remain a mystery. It doesn’t matter.
We lived in Godalming, Surrey and had a horrible time at school so were home educated from 10 to 16. It was a big financial outlay for our parents, quite a commitment and a lot of love. Mum was a social worker and dad had a Feng Shui business. They didn’t educate us all by themselves. We were taught French by a teacher who lived near us and dad’s friend taught archaeology so we did an archaeology GCSE when we were about twelve – and passed! It was relatively peripatetic, we had lots of English and history and less maths. We are a very close family. There are three older brothers then us and another younger sibling.
We’ve always written stories and acted at Christmas, forcing dad to play Herod. At 16, I downloaded a free trial of a script template and started writing. That became our screenplay Shakespeare Club.
We wanted to be actors as kids – I am an actor – and that’s where it began. We went to a kids’ drama school, which became our whole world. We did lots of plays and wrote some scenes from Little Women and ended up being in the end of term show. Years later our drama teacher, Tracey Linegar from the school worked as acting coach to Gregor Selkirk on Tell It To The Bees.
In some ways adaptation is easier than origination because the story is already there but it’s also a lot more responsibility communicating someone else’s vision. While it may not be exactly like the book we try and create the same feelings.
Usually I read the book first then put it away and write a draft. The impression I get from that first reading is probably the most important thing. I go back to the book and remember the lovely lines I liked and fill in the detail.
Henni and I always tend agree on character or where we want the story to lead. We do an outline together but write the first draft separately. It’s really hard to get the words onto the page with someone sitting next to you. I’ll go as far as I can, then we swap. It takes away the terror of the blank page because I know she is going to make it better.
If we’re both down at the same time it can be awful. But it makes us so much stronger writing together.
As an actor I’d go to auditions on my own and hate it. I was crushed. Then Henni and I started going to script meetings together and it was much easier. In a very male dominated industry, it’s much harder to ask two women to shut up!
I had zero further education, I wanted to be an actor and just work. So I waited on tables and went to auditions while Henni went to Sussex and did a degree in English and film, then a Masters at University College London.
I’d say she’s better at structure and I’m perhaps better at emotional stuff. Once a script is written I couldn’t tell you what she wrote or I did. She has a sharper eye for logic and I have an eye for dialogue.
Trust is absolutely key. I know I can say something risky when Henni is sitting next to me, ready to hold my hand.
The writers’ room on Killing Eve was such fun, full of irreverent women throwing around creative ideas and a healthy bit of gossiping. We got the job before the first series came out and didn’t know what the impact would be. Then we got the script and saw early cuts and just knew. se had to sit on it for so long, I kept saying to friends “just you wait, this is going to be your favourite show.”
We’re part of this little radical group of women writers all helping each other, there’s now a whole movement of female writers in Britain. If we’re going to break down the barriers and change the assumptions then helping each other has to be a part of that. It’s a really exciting time to be a female writer. We’re coming!
We’ve always felt strange about identifying as twins, like it’s a huge novelty thing. When we were younger we never liked being called ‘the twins’ and hated the idea of people mixing us up, thinking we were the same. But we were inseparable and most of the time had the same friends. We still find it impossible not to share things, we start a hobby separately then one of us will say “It’s so cool” and we both end up doing it.
We loved spending time with Fiona Shaw, she was very excited the film was getting made. There was a real meeting of minds, we all felt it was really nice to be shepherding this story into the world,
l like to write dialogue and cross cutting, more structural stuff, while Jessie likes long beautiful speeches and stage direction.’
The time when she was acting and I was doing a degree and then MA definitely enhanced our writing. I have a more analytic film nerd brain and she has a real awareness of character and the practicalities of what it is to make a film, having spent much of her teenage years and early 20s on set.
We were developing films with other producers and had written for Fresh Meat when the BFI recommended us for Tell It To The Bees. We’d write a draft, send it to them and go off and do other things, then come back and do another draft.
I watched an early cut of the film then saw it for the first time in Toronto. It was totally surreal. I was terrified and so nervous but it was a wonderful night. The sad thing about making art is you can’t really enjoy it. I only see the flaws. It keeps me forever self-questioning. Now we’re having a go at directing with a short horror film, Night Bus starring Susan Wokoma. She’s driving around a haunted night bus. We loved directing and would love to do more.
It was amazing being involved with Killing Eve. When we interviewed for it and met Phoebe we were obsessed with Fleabag and would bite your arm off to work with her. The success has obviously blown everyone away but we all knew it was special. Watching the first series it appeared Phoebe was having a good time writing and that’s maybe why it doesn’t seem grim. Because she’s winking and being playful in the way the violence is framed.
Sandra Oh is so funny and likeable and Jodie Comer is a revelation and has such range. The clothes are amazing, a really fun way of appreciating how clothes communicate between women.
As sisters we’re very close, co-dependent and can’t separate each other’s work anymore. We also can’t break up with each other. It’s safe and we can talk about anything but we also have to be careful to maintain the relationship. What writers need most in the world is someone to say “that’s good, keep going.” Without a sister my stuff might not have seen the light of day because you always think whatever you write is pure sh**.
It’s a really nice thing to have your close friend and sister to go through it all with. It’s mad and exposing and exciting but a great gift to have this best friend in the world grab your hand.
Jessica and Henrietta will be at the screening giving a Q&A after the film screening with author Fiona Shaw and Daisy Allsop.
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