Women the world over may quite possibly confer a sainthood on Mark Lamprell - whether his film, My Mother Frank, is a success or not - just for writing a screenplay whose central character is a heroic woman. Not only a woman, not only a mother, but 51 years old. Frank of the title is Francis Regina Aileen Nano Kennedy, a crusty and devoutly Catholic over-protective mother on a heroic journey of discovery: life gives you two options - change or die.
Frank, with a rather bad memory and a prickly nature, is living her life through her children. She enrolls in the University where her 20 year old son, David, is studying, and finds herself doing battle with virtually everyone, including Professor Mortlock who constantly sets her trials and obstacles. After each humiliation as she is about to give up, her anarchic courage pushes her forward. Even though she is shattered when she discovers she is very ill, she never surrenders and becomes an icon to those around her who want to change their lives but are afraid.
Lamprell grew up in a household of eccentric Irish Catholics, "fertile ground to find and tell stories," he says. "I wasn't looking for something to write about, I was COMPELLED to tell a story about this world. It's a classic hero's journey, where the hero happens to be an eccentric 51 year old Catholic woman. She takes a journey to try to realise her potential. She had been utterly dormant. She decides to live a dream - and in the process, she changes the lives of those around her forever. They're all touched and inspired, and take up a challenge to do something courageous with their lives."
It's Lamprell's feature debut, and he's in shock. "Like all extraordinary things in life, it's equally terrifying and wonderful to be making the film." He says it's very funny but also sad. He was daunted before coming on set, even though he had worked on major productions including Babe and Contact.
On a filmmaker friend's advice, Lamprell took the script to producers Phaedon and Susan Vass; "it's a great fit," he says. "They've been brilliant, steady, calm, even in the face of several disappointments over three years it took to get the money." But he'd been looking for Frank for 10 years and never found the right actress. But one day in a casting sesion in London, when Sinead Cusak walked into the room, "it was a great, gut wrenching moment" for Lamprell. "My god, she's arrived," he gasped.
He then sent the script, "with great optimism," to Sam Neill. Some time later, he got a phone call "from a quietly spoken man…Hello, it's Sam Neill here… and after a 15 minute conversation, he said yes. I suppressed a need to scream and shout…until I hung up."
Despite Franks' age, the film is broadly accessible to all ages, says producer Phaedon Vass, because of the younger cast surrounding her. After acquiring the option to the script, the first positive response came from Channel 4 and Australia's cable movie player, Showtime.
Beyond Films then took up world sales rights (except UK) and that triggered investment from the Australian Film Finance Corporation. Vass says it's a mainstream comedy drama.