David Leland, the former actor turned scriptwriter and later director, made his breakthrough with Wish You Were Here, loosely based on the memoirs of sex-for-luncheon vouchers madame Cynthia Payne. In a similar vein comes romantic drama The Land Girls, a rosy but never rose-tinted account of the volunteers who joined the Women’s Land Army while the men were away fighting in Europe.
The year is 1941, and three young girls have been sent to work for the Lawrence family on their crumbling Dorset farm. There’s Stella (Catherine McCormack), a worldly city girl who’s having second thoughts about her upcoming engagement to a high-ranking sailor. There’s Ag (Rachel Weisz), a bright but socially awkward 26-year-old who has yet to begin her first fumbling sexual adventures. And then there’s Pru (Anna Friel), a bolshie working-class girl who sets her sights immediately on the Lawrence’s son Joe (Steven MacKintosh) and immediately sets off a chain of rivalry as all three vie for his affections.
Balancing comedy, romance and drama, The Land Girls’ subtle exploration of the political and personal climate of the time might not be too obvious at first glance. “It was a time of emotional, sexual and class anarchy, and some people really relished it,” explains Leland, who grew up in a small Cambridge village shortly after the war. And to get the right level of authenticity, he invited some of the original Land Girls to the set to meet the cast.
“After speaking to those people,” says Weisz, “you realise that, away from the sight of war, life goes on. In fact, it may go on more intensely than at other times. Even though there was rationing and really ghastly things going on, it was a time of camaraderie, of people pulling together and communities helping each other. There was some fun too. It wasn’t just miserable — people living in terror.”
UK / 1997
Director: David Leland
Writer: Keith Dewhirst from the novel by Angela Huth
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Catherine McCormack, Anna Friel, Steven Mackintosh