NewsUCA Farnham

UCA Alumnus of the Year releases his first feature film

William McGregor, who graduated from the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) Farnham in 2010 with a degree in Digital Film & Screen Arts is set to release his first feature film debut in UK & Ireland theatres this Friday.

Gwen Film Poster

Gwen is written and directed by William, and stars Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Gwen, who at the age of ten starred in the stage musical Matilda, which won her an Olivier award for Best Actress. RADA trained actress Maxine Peake who is best known for her roles in Dinnerladies and Shameless plays Gwen’s mother Elen.

William, who was awarded Alumnus of the Year at UCA’s recent graduation ceremonies, said: ‘This is what it is all about: to create cinema, write films, and have my own voice being expressed on screen.”

Gwen premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival last month to critical acclaim. Danny Leigh of The Financial Times called it “a stark and haunting future classic”, and Philip Kemp of Sight & Sound says it is “undeniably powerful.”

William McGregor on the set of 'Gwen'

William McGregor on the set of Gwen

Gwen is a folk story set in the dark hills of Wales during the industrial revolution. Against the stark beauty of 19th Century Snowdonia a young girl, Gwen, is desperately trying to hold her home together. Struggling with her mother’s mysterious illness, her father’s absence and a ruthless mining company encroaching on their land, a growing darkness begins to take grip of her home, and the suspicious local community turns on Gwen and her family.

Up until now, William’s career has included directing scenes for BBC’s Poldark, The Missing, as well as E4’s BAFTA-winning series, Misfits. Now a household name, William is currently directing the latest television adaption of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which is to be broadcast on HBO later this year. Gwen is the first opportunity, since graduating, that William has had to work on his own film. William said: “not working for someone else means that I could be the creative vision behind the piece."

Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Gwen

Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Gwen

Gwen was inspired by William’s experience of growing up on a remote farm and wanting to tell a story that evokes both landscape and folklore: “I have always had a fascination with how a sense of place affects the culture of the local community, informing traditions and beliefs. In particular, I wanted to look at that moment when a child starts to question the narrative they are told by their parents and begin to find their own truths, and the friction that this can cause between parent and child as naivety is lost and the realities of a harsh world come into focus.

“For me, it was fascinating to explore how the sublime and eerie quality of the Snowdonian landscape feeds into the psychology of our young protagonist. I remember how, as a child, even the sound of the wind or a lost animal outside on a dark night could spark my imagination and fear,” explained William.

Hilary Bevan Jones, a producer on Gwen said of William’s talents: “I first saw Will’s work when he was a student filmmaker. He’d won the film of the year [with Who’s Afraid of the Water Sprite?] at a festival that was just being started up, by students, in Cambridge. The festival is now named after that winning film of his: The Watersprite Film Festival. You could instantly see that he’s a unique filmmaker. He has an eye for a story but also an incredible knack of capturing the emotion and the landscape within the story.”

Maxine Peake as Elen in 'Gwen'

Maxine Peake as Elen

So how instrumental was William in getting Maxine Peake on board to play Elen: “I couldn’t imagine the film working without Maxine. She has an incredible ability to be so fierce and so strong but also vulnerable. There’s something ethereal about her but also earthy and grounded, that you just believe.”

In a comment that Maxine made about the film she said: “You look where you are in society, and how we’ve got so far with technology. These films fascinate because they get back to the grassroots – people working the land is very basic and simple. But there’s something about the land, the connection with the earth… These films are horrors but they are believable. There are no monsters. It’s psychological, left to the imagination."

Gwen is set to release in selected UK & Ireland theatres on Friday 19 July

For more information about the film and where to see it follow @GwenFilm

To learn more about BA (Hons) Film & Digital Art visit the UCA course pages.

Watch the trailer

For more information about the film follow @GwenFilm

To find out where Gwen is showing visit the film's website.

To learn more about BA (Hons) Film & Digital Art visit the course pages.