Mike Davies puckers up with Gurinder Chadah
Less an English answer to Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries and more a stroppy teenage girl version of Adrian Mole, a sort of 14 year-old Bridget Jones, Brighton based novelist Louis Rennison’s debut novel, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, became an instant bestseller when published in 1999, going on to win a Nestlé Smarties Prize for children’s books.
Currently up to its ninth instalment, the series follows the hormonally turbulent Georgia Nicholson who, like any teenager, knows that her parents, teachers and indeed the whole world is conspiring to make her life as difficult as possible. Especially when it comes to sorting out a sex god boyfriend.
Now her misadventures are coming to the screen courtesy of Bend It Like Beckham writer-director Gurinder Chada. Except, as will be immediately obvious, the title has undergone something of a modification to become Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging.
“We kept running into trouble with Full Frontal when we were trying to get permission for filming in Eastbourne,” sighs Chadah. “Because we had Thongs in there as well, there was a suspicion that we were making a porno film. We found ourselves having to explain it all the time. Then we did two test screenings, here and in America, and on both occasions we had huge resistance from mums not wanting their kids to see a film with that title.”
As she says, see the book on the shelf with its bright design and girlish writing and you know you’re not getting anything steamy. But see the title without any background awareness and alarm bells might go off. So when the censors balked at giving the film’s trailer a PG certificate because they said the title was too suggestive, the Full-Frontal had to go.”
“We had loads of different alternatives,” she continues. “The film’s based on the first two books and the second one is called It’s OK, I’m Wearing Really Big Knickers. So there was talk about calling it Angus, Thongs and Really Big Knickers, but I didn’t want it to sound like a film about girls’ underwear. In the end we compromised on Perfect, and after all the film’s really about being perfect too.”
Although they got the PG trailer, the language and sex references have ensured the film itself is a 12A; but then, that didn’t stop young audiences flocking to St Trinians!
However, while likely to prove one of Chadah’s biggest hits, she admits that she’d initially had reservations about taking it on.
“The books have a very zany quality that makes them very funny. The language the girls speak and the emotions they go through is all very pure and innocent. But when you’re going through it, it’s horrendous. You’re angry all the time at your parents, who are just always embarrassing no matter what they do. When that boy you really fancy just doesn’t know you exist, you just want to die and never have anything to do with boys again. Everything is so dramatic.”
“However, it’s written in diary form and that’s very hard to adapt that to a screenplay. They sent me the script two years ago and it was in a right old state. They’d given it to two LA guys to adapt, which meant it read like a US male version of growing up in England.”
She was also concerned that it was a little too similar to Bend It Like Beckham, and was concerned about repeating herself. Then came a bizarre epiphany.
“I was in America working on the (now stalled) film version of Dallas. One of the execs invited me to dinner and asked if her goddaughter could come and say hello. This chubby little 10 year old American girl with a pony tail came in and was really boggle eyed at me. I asked her if she liked Bend It Like Beckham. She said, ‘yes but I really like Bride & Prejudice and I know all the songs.’
“She then proceeded to re-enact all of them at this dinner party, including the Indian ones. She sang phonetically and did all the moves. It turns out that it’s the No 1 sleepover movie in the States. It really opened my eyes to this huge audience of young girls I have around the world and the responsibility that comes with that.
“So I started thinking about making it as a British version of the American high school movie about girls not fitting in, having low self esteem, falling in love for the first time and it not working out until the end at the prom party. But one which would also reflect my own childhood adolescence which, with the strops, thinking your parents were the most uncool people on earth, and having crushes on boys, wasn’t much different to what Georgia does. Except. of course, that. being a good Indian girl, I didn’t kiss a boy until I was 21.”
That first kiss between Georgia and Robbie is one of the film’s sweetest moments, but it also meant that Georgia Groome almost didn’t get the part.
“When I was casting for the part of Georgia I was looking at how it would appear if a 17 year old kissed them,” Chadah explains. “Would it be paedophile city or natural.. Some very short little girls came in and some were 15 year olds looking 25.”
Having seen her mesmerising debut in London To Brighton, Groome was very much on Chadah’s list but when she walked in to the auditions, she struck a very different figure from her character in that.
“She was 13 and looked very tiny and very young. It’s a difficult age, they can still be very innocent like an 11 year-old or they can be very advanced. She was definitely of the young girl variety. I needed someone who looked innocent but was ready to go to the next step, and she didn’t do it at all. I was gutted.”
Auditions continued with Chadah seeing around 1,000 girls. But, pregnant with twins and told by her doctors that her blood pressure was dangerously high, when she finally went off on maternity leave in May, the role had still not been filled. Chadah gave birth to twins, six weeks early, by C-section and while they spent five weeks in intensive care, she was able to recuperate sufficiently to get back to set in the August. The first things she did was call Groome back in. This time a different girl walked through the door.
“ In those six months she’d changed and now here was this 14 year old with curves, boobs, and tight jeans Still very girlie but she’d grown. So she was my Georgia.
“When it came to the kiss, she was very good at getting into the emotions of the scene and I never got the impression she was nervous. The first take is what you see. It’s absolutely marvellous and captures the moment when she goes from an innocent girl to becoming a woman.”