art, screen

Pauline: A Suitable Case for Treatment (Part Two)

Pauline Boty was a celebrated English Pop artist of the 1960s who died young and her work went missing for decades. 

This is Part Two of a film treatment of Boty’s life – but written as a blogpiece. (Here’s Part One)

Shortly, we’ll rewind to Pauline’s early years, spending time with the artist as a young child and her complicated parents and rambunctious brothers. And from this genealogical mulch will rise the bold Pauline Boty, a young adult who came to be known as the Wimbledon Bardot. 

Last time I wrote these words ‘The Wimbledon Bardot’ to conclude Part One; then closed the laptop and went out for the afternoon. I had a date to go see a film. It was Saturday and sunny and the wind was blowing brown leaves across the sloping path on the short walk to the station. 

As I step inside the carriage of a train heading into town, I bump into a man who looks like Jake Gyllenhaal. I apologise for the bump, although I’m not sure that the fault is on me. Gyllenhaal mumbles something, but I’ve got my headphones on. 

Jake Gyllenhaal, Actor

Jake Gyllenhaal – who is wearing a blue shirt, selvedge jeans, chunky work boots and a full beard – sits directly opposite, and I secretly watch him as the train gathers speed. Considered a leading actor of his generation, Gyllenhaal is one of those male stars who proves himself by living every role – the boxer, the jilted lover, the tortured doppelgänger, the night crawler. He will shed tons of weight, gain mountains of weight, learn how to fight, have his arm chopped off, whatever the role requires. He’s an obsessive. You wonder if being in the ‘feelings business’ pushes some men to over-compensate, getting deeply immersed as a declaration of masculinity – you know, like doing all their own stunts. To be male is to be dangerous is to be artistically daring.

I continue to gaze upon Gyllenhaal, his head buried in an illustrated manual on car mechanics, and ask myself the glaring question,   Why am I not an obsessive? What happened to my compulsive gene?

It’s time to confess that I am not a Boty obsessive. I just find her life interesting. And it is puzzling Pauline hasn’t been turned into a film. Boty’s art is wonderful and her ending was tragic, while the aftermath and her neglect is shocking. Also, Boty lived through tumultuous times, she was part of several scenes and knew many interesting people, giving her story a broader historical interest. So, there’s a lot of good material with Pauline – you’d be a fool to squander all that content. 

But I’m not fixated on Boty. I’m not in love with her. I’m not intoxicated by her beauty. I don’t actually fancy her. It just bothers me – the fact that she was there, like a bright light charged with life, and then suddenly Boty was snuffed out and quickly lost. In contrast with her youthful vivacity her early death – and the way she vanished from view – seems an affront of some magnitude; an affront to life itself even. Or is that putting it too large? 

And lastly, though many have tried, as of yet, no one has properly recovered Pauline. So, why not try again?

What We Know So Far
The mention of Pauline’s brothers at the conclusion of Part One opens a clear route to Pauline as a young thing. And it’s time we got to the Boty childhood to establish a firm footing on the trail of the artist’s life.

I would estimate that so far we’ve been on screen for around ten minutes. If that. Or maybe it’s been longer. In truth, I have no idea -I don’t know why I’m even saying anything on timings, rhythm, or film architecture, having no insight. Who am I to advise if the treatment lacks pace or floods by too fast? Is it a bit jumpy, or profoundly clogged and clunky?

I think that the opening scene at the farm provokes a curiosity and a sense of  discovery. That’s good. And then the big early reveal at the art show, with the lovely painting, plays out as suitably cinematic. The transition that follows, using the Monroe artwork for a portal back to the early 1960s, feels both elegant and cute.

Thereafter, the skittish, quick-fire scenes provide flavour and intrigue and atmosphere and hopefully succeed in landing Pauline in her own story. ‘Landing’ is a very media word. Landing describes a media product catching the consumer’s attention and holding it. Well, hopefully we have caught our viewers’ eyeballs, and they already like Pauline, and are curious to learn more. 

But we must guard against complicated timelines. Too much muddle loses eyeballs. So, we’re going to stop hopping back and forth across the years and settle down to proceed from the beginning to the end in a lineal progression. A simple chronology will be adhered to through the remainder of the treatment (well, almost): leading from childhood, to daughter, to pupil, to art student, to activist, artist, actor, dancer, designer, presenter, feminist, lover, and tragic mother.

Not all of the scenes will be detailed or that long. We will however need some more extended dramatic moments. And I’m working on that. Meanwhile, apart from a few quirks, the narrative style is set to be conventional.  

The broad aim is to be a little bit Pop, but mainly trad. There will be some self-conscious breaking with conventions. Occasionally, a character might ignore the fourth wall and directly address the camera. (We have experienced some of this already.) Anyway, these days this is a well-established device, where the trick is just don’t do it too often

The funky style notes will be sparing and less showy than they may sound at first reading. However, let’s not forget that this is a biopic of an artist – it’s going to be arty at times. Expect some split screens, broken lines, canted cameras. It’s a treatment for the life and times of a Pop artist; and so occasionally you need the visuals to go Pop – with speech balloons, or thought bubbles, and dynamic paintings that just can’t help getting animated, or at least jiggling about a bit. Some artworks may feature sound effects. The film and music icons depicted on canvas – the Monroes, Belmondos, Vittis and Presleys – may suddenly slide down from the wall and slope around the room on a brief visit.

There is also a larger milieu to be considered and characterised. This was a time of new ideas and experiences. Not just bright, dazzling culture rations from the  American empire, it was also the era of existentialism, nuclear dread, sexual liberation, experimental theatre and the renaissance years of post-war European cinema. Across London, a small circuit of arthouse cinemas and film clubs screened startling new works by Godard,  Truffaut, Fellini and Bergman – films teeming with formal experimentation and grown-up themes featuring beautiful actors speaking in subtitles. Inevitably, these radical new departures on celluloid will seep into the Boty biopic’s aesthetic.

However, the bigger picture is a film that’s not a mould breaker, but a mainstream piece of narrative cinema. An agreeable biopic to be enjoyed by the many, consciously using conventional modes of storytelling to cover the tragic tale of a transgressive artist in history. 

Newness on screen can be over-valued, yes it can, and at times  innovation feels misplaced. Genre conventions will be adhered to, allowing the film requisite space for meaning to generate through the inherent energy of its source material. 

Imagine, please, that Nick Hornby is writing the screenplay, with Stephen Fears contracted to direct. It could be Andrea Arnold, for something a bit looser. At a pinch we can imagine Joanna Hogg, or Lynne Ramsay, or Michael Winterbottom at the helm. But for sure, the mood dial is set for a tragic but redemptive story with the warm melancholy notes of Hilary and Jackie or Philomena – movies that are absorbing because of their sad tales to tell, and which therefore have no cause to lob firecrackers at their audience. An audience that, largely speaking, would much prefer that the baby does not follow the bathwater through the window.

Now all of this has been settled, there’s just one last issue to address: Why is it for to me to write this? 

I said to Silba last year someone should make a film about Pauline Boty. I said the same again, with greater feeling, over the summer, as we walked along a noisy street looking for Sunday brunch. It was shortly before we broke up. But my Boty question and our rupture are not connected. British cinema loves heritage drama and period productions. Something with costumes and start-up funding from Film4BFI, or BBC Films. Why not Boty? I said. Why has no one written a film about her life

You write it, said Silba. 

I doubt she said this simply to shut me up. But you never know what another person’s really thinking. Perhaps she was being sarcastic. After all, why me? For a start, I’m male, which some may view as a hindrance. Also, I know nothing about art or how people make films. I like films, but I have no interest in writing one. Film scripts, with their awkward notation and page clutter, all that technical scene setting – interior day; exterior night; two shot, reverse shot, close-up – they’re boring. I’ve visited film sets, and they’re more tedious than the scripts. Films are great fun to watch, but to make? The creative process seems demanding and dull. 

Carey Mullgan
Carey Mulligan

That said, who would like to play Pauline Boty? Filling the lead role should not be difficult. I’m not a casting director – obviously – but most actors of a certain age would surely covet the role of Pauline – Carey Mulligan, Jessica Brown Findlay, Emily Beecham, Felicity Jones, Claire Foy, Charlotte Riley, Florence Pugh. There are likely to be many others, but their names escape me this second. 

Perhaps the role should go to an unknown name who’s closer to Boty’s age through her early breakthrough years. It’s said that a newcomer brings no baggage. But conversely, there are certain screen actors already familiar to us, who carry their own accumulated meanings from role to role, actors who will do some of the signalling simply by being there on screen. The appropriate performer will convey freight to the viewer, so that your screenplay won’t need to – which means the writing can be less overt.

This will apply when selecting side parts and celebrity cameos. Who will play John Lennon? Anyone up for doing Dylan? Yes,  Bob Dylan, rock’s Nobel laureate, features prominently, if only fleetingly, in the Boty story. (Might the young Bob Dylan and my mysterious encounter with Gyllenhaal be connected? Could the chance to play the bard of Duluth see Jake descend from Mount Olympus?) There’s also David Hockney, Andy Warhol, George Harrison and Julie Christie? Steve Coogan would make a good Kenneth Tynan. Or should it be Coogan for David Frost? (Frost once told the papers that Boty was his ‘ideal girlfriend’.) Maybe Toby Jones could apply a bushy wig and make a go of being Ken Russell; while Cumberbatch could be the phlegmatic Peter Blake. Or perhaps better the other way round with these two. 

There’s much more to be said on the pick and mix of good casting. But for now, it’s time to move the treatment forward.

Childhood Scenes
These are the backstories, the key moments from the early years  which outline the salient conditions and circumstances that created Pauline the adventurous, determined, outspoken artist.

Pauline Boty was born March 6, 1938 in Croydon, Surrey, and grew up in what Boty called a ‘desirable semi’ in nearby Carshalton. 

Do we have a birth scene? Maybe this: we excavate public events of note that occurred on March 6 1938, each of them to be briefly mentioned before flowing into a short exterior scene at night, outside the ‘desirable semi’ in Carshalton, and a fixed camera from across the street, where the quiet of a Sunday night is momentarily pierced by the sound of a baby’s first yelp. (The historical line-up for March 6 1938 is rather short on stand out events: a sea battle in the Spanish Civil War, singer Lovelace Watkins is born, and the Bette Davis film Jezebel goes on general release.)

Veronica Boty, Pauline’s mother, was a home-maker, but also a frustrated artist and a part-time bohemian. Veronica often reminded folk that she could have gone to art college – she was offered a place at the Slade – if only her father hadn’t refused his permission. 

Veronica had an Irish background. She was slim and nervy and came with a twist of eccentricity. To ‘get’ Veronica in a single line for a visual sketch, we show her standing in her well-lit kitchen in Carshalton. The kitchen is brightly decorated with yellow wallpaper and green floor vinyl. Veronica is wearing a shiny apron featuring large pink Schiaparelli flowers. She is holding for no good reason an artist’s paint brush in one hand, with a glass of sherry, her favourite tipple, in the other. Maria Callas is singing a tragic aria on the radio.

Albert Boty, in contrast, was an accountant and ‘staunch British conservative.’ Albert’s single line sketch captures him working late into the evening, hunched over a double entry ledger in a diffuse amber light. Albert’s wearing the shirt and tie he had on all day at the office, with his sleeves held up by elasticated bands, keeping his cuffs safe from pen ink. A tired, furrowed brow.

Pauline’s origins appear bland and frightfully parochial. However, the Boty ancestry includes a Persian grandmother and a Belgian grandfather. The Belgian grandfather was the captain of a merchant loader, who was killed by pirates in the Arabian Sea. 

Pauline’s father was orphaned at a young age and came to settle on the rising borders of Surrey and south London. Out of such precariousness, over time Arthur constructed a secure suburban life featuring a safe profession and a  conventional, almost theatrical Englishness. This included a set of strict rules for making tea; a detailed appreciation of cricket; roast beef on Sundays; cucumber sandwiches; and a well tended rose garden. Albert’s was a performance of Englishness perhaps; one that enabled him to pass through life with a tidy sense of security. 

Maybe Pauline’s love of the rose as a painterly symbol stems from her father’s attentive gardening. Or maybe from mum’s kitchen apron.

Sunday in Suburbia
To establish this childhood section of the film, we construct a couple of expansive scenes to characterise an idyllic suburban Sunday, one of the scenes will be completed in a single, long take. 

Starting with a medium shot outside the Boty’s ‘desirable semi’, a young Pauline steps out the front door and skips down the garden path and through the white picket gate. And off she goes tearing up the street, racing to catch her elder brothers leading the charge. 

Cut to the beginning of the extended take. An aerial camera shot swoops from up in the clouds, descending through blue skies towards a row of nearly identical semis, with tiled rooftops and matching garden plots. Down, down, down, landing at street level, where period automobiles parked in the sun are soaped and rinsed by their proud middle class owners, in rolled sleeves and pink cheeks, on another sleepy Sunday in the late 1940s. 

Frank Sinatra sings Swinging Down the Lane as the single shot continues – following Pauline and her brothers through a brief network of streets: on the pavement, off the pavement, into the road, across a lane of half-finished macadam, then down another empty side street, then a left, then a right, another right, all the way  to then end of the pavement, and finally across the road, as the children plunge into a swathe of baked wasteground, overrun by tall yellow grass, which leads to a canal bridge, some woods, and the larger fields beyond.  

The boys are in short pants and scrappy tops. Pauline is wearing a light yellow pinafore dress and daps on her feet. 

Pauline was the youngest of four mini Botys. The children often roamed free in a suburban environment still fringed with semi rural expanses – a greenbelt of local woods, ponds, railway lines; of climbing trees and riding bikes and playing cowboys and indians, and being mean to Pauline, who often tagged along as the spare part in the boys’ high-spirited play. 

I was surrounded by brothers, Pauline told the writer Nell Dunn,  I was surrounded by boys who kept yelling “Shut up, you’re only a girl!” I wanted to be a boy.

By now the camera has completed its fancy single take and is at rest inside a scene within a sunlit clearing of the far woods. We notice that the music soundtrack has both receded into the background and changed songs, with Sinatra switching to Anything Goes. The scene lingers a few moments, to characterise the feral abandon of kids left to their own devices – the pleasure and un; the fights and spite that can rear up; the cruelty inflicted without judgement; the deep wounds that heal in a second; and the minor harm that will scar for life.   

The boys casually tormented Pauline through the early years. Not maliciously, just as careless sport. Many times Pauline found herself tied up – against a tree, chair, street railings, under a bed – as the vanquished villain in her brothers’ adventure capers. Here she is, aged ten, being held down and tickled in a way that hurts and leaves her feeling rotten with powerlessness. This time, it’s Pauline’s twin brothers performing the role of combined tormentors, while in the background, eldest son Arthur prepares a stick, making it over into a plausible weapon as he observes casually with half an eye his little sister’s prolonged humiliation. The twins tickle Pauline while chanting ‘Porky Pauline’ ‘Porky Pauline’ ‘Porky Pauline’. The refrain was a feature through Boty’s childhood. (On her deathbed, ravaged by cancer, Boty happily declared, Finally, I’m thin.)

We blink and Pauline’s up again and running freely, with the recent cruelties apparently already forgotten. Her clothing has been self-customised and accessoriesed with leaves and twigs to resemble a squaw, with dabbed smears of wet mud for face paint. 

A short scene of battle and chase, the camera lodged inside the thick of it, concludes with, once again, Pauline held down on the grass. This round it’s Arthur as tormentor as he seeks to exact the victor’s tithe. Big brother insists that since Pauline ‘lost’ the battle, she  must agree to his peace terms. Arthur’s demands require Pauline to perform all of his house chores. Not just tonight, but all of the week. Pauline resists. Arthur presses down harder and prepares a long streak of spit, which slowly stretches down from his puckered mouth. He aims the drool to drop into his younger sister’s eye, but then Arthur draws the spit back into his mouth to chant “Submit ‘Porky Pauline’ …. Paw-Key Paul-een. Paw-Key Paul-een” 

Young Boty refuses to capitulate. Arthur resumes with the spit, causing Pauline’s face to turn pink as a radish. The viscose slaver dangles over her nose – to far gone for reeling back inside Arthur’s gob. Pauline turns her face away and Arthur forces it back. In being distracted he loses control of the mouth dribble and the spit lands splat on Pauline’s cheek. 

Disgusting. Pauline is furious. Arthur looks apologetic – he hadn’t meant to take it so far. He lets go and his sister clambers up. Her first coherent remark is, I didn’t submit. This is also her second remark, I didn’t submit. Pauline nearly always didn’t submit. 

Arthur feels a bit small. He shrugs and turns his back and walks away with the others, while Pauline, still furious, grabs a thickish tree branch off the ground and runs over to her eldest brother and wacks him on the arse and then across the hip.

‘My brothers always tortured me fantastically,’ says grown-up Boty in a bright, but regretful voiceover. ‘Till I was in such a rage that I would pick up anything to kill them you know, and this was their whole point in doing it, you see, to get me to the point where I was just a screaming maniac.’

Pauline Boty as a small child

Leftovers with Strife
Pauline Boty, Confirmation, June 1948That evening at home, over dinner, or tea, or supper, depending on your class and your personal geography – Pauline is visibly sullen faced with a plate of leftovers from lunchtime’s roast. 

The camera tracks from the dining table to the family photos on the carved, panelled sideboard with Deco features. There’s a tight-packed array, mixing group shots, compositions of parents only, and also various configurations and singles of the kids. Pauline as a toddler clutches her teddy bear, smiling at the lens, her eyes scrunched in the summer light. The Botys were Catholic and for Pauline’s confirmation she wore a white dress and a lace and net head piece, with mini socks and sandals. (Glued on or stitched pieces of lace appear in several of Boty’s collages.) 

The main family portrait, kept in a simple mahogany frame, is a shot taken outdoors that is relaxed and cheerful. Albert and Veronica are seated on garden chairs. Veronica is wearing a good dress while Albert is down to a vest with a beach towel across his lap. Arthur the eldest is stood behind them with his hands in his trouser pockets, looking casual and assured. The twins sit on the grass either side of Pauline, who is wearing a headscarf and a wide smile.

The Boty Family - Arthur, Albert, Veronica, John, Pauline, Albert

The sullen Sunday supper drags time to a slow crawl. (Come, come, come – nuclear bomb.) Veronica makes a series of stabs to chase the tension away. First, she mentions something she heard on the wireless cooking. It was a public figure, a man who she disapproves of, making patronising comments about a woman currently in the news. Veronica tuts and says disapprovingly, It’s a man’s world. This was an article of faith for Mrs Boty, It’s a man’s world – a slogan she often recited which trickled down to Pauline both as a warning and call to arms. 

From the other end of the table, Albert looks up from his plate of cold beef and warmed up potatoes with gravy, and grimaces like a smouldering bear. Albert was mostly dubious of his wife’s voluble style; while talk of sexual politics just made him cross. Veronica sees her husband’s grouchy face and recognises that she has been warned. 

Veronica redirects the conversation down another avenue, asking the children about their afternoon. Did they play any nice games? Pauline gags at ‘nice’. But before she or any of them can reply, Veronica answers her own enquiry by insisting that it’s actually lovely the four have each other. 

The four twist or scowl or both. Pauline starts to speak up about her brothers’ meanness, but Albert cuts her off with a reprimanding look. 

Veronica tacks wildly to mention an item in the Sunday papers that predicted a run on sterling. She’s concerned the pound in her pocket is about to shrink. Although Albert disapproves of mixing politics with dinner, being a certified accountant leaves him  compelled to dump on Veronica’s fiscal poser. Nonsense, he declares.

The table falls quiet. Looks are exchanged between the siblings. Arthur pulls a face at Pauline and mouths the syllables ‘Paw…Key.’ 

Veronica observes before launching a last bid for congeniality. She says to Pauline there’s an exhibition coming to Croydon Art Gallery – a collection of paintings of flowers. We should go, make a day of it. Arthur scoffs. The eldest son’s scorn for female frivolity hangs there, left unchallenged by Albert. Pauline bristles and complains at her brother’s surly tone. Flash, bang! Dad puts down his cutlery and tells his daughter to mind her impudence. 

At some pre-conscious level the viewer expects Albert’s admonishment to mark an end to the dispute. Most of history and patriarchy’s long tail are on father’s side. Having established himself as dominant male, the cock who rules the roost,  Albert would appear to have all the weapons. But that’s not how the dining room scene plays out. Pauline bites back. She argues her case. Albert makes a second bid to silence his youngest. But the fearless Pauline is undaunted. Albert threatens her, pointing with his fork, from which a small piece of lettuce dangles. But Pauline bites back a third time. And with it takes the last word, as she abruptly rises from the table and leaves the room, chin held high.

This thrust and counter-thrust was a familiar pattern between father and daughter through the formative years. 

Later the same evening. We open on a fireside scene in the front room. Veronica is reading a novel, with a fag and a sherry on the go. On the other side of the fire place, Albert is preoccupied with his crossword. Albert is wearing his tartan slippers and Callas is back on the radio. 

Dad is bothered by eleven across, as the letters just won’t fall into place. He feels distracted and irritated. He blames Callas booming through the sunbeam speakers and twiddles the radio dial till he finds some Elgar, then settles back with a contended sigh. 

Veronica demures. She remarks that Pauline must be upset. She says Pauline is bound to be sad now and she should go and check on her daughter. But Albert discourages the needless act of coddling.

The camera is in a medium close-up of the fireside scene as slowly it starts to rise up, carried on a platform and climbing towards the whipped cream ceiling. Then up through the thick paint and plaster and rafters it travels, ascending up through the floorboards, underlay and carpet, and inside Pauline’s bedroom, where we find the youngest Boty happily absorbed with her scrapbook.

It’s Pauline’s regular art project. Far from being sad or post-tearful, the young Boty is smiling, surrounded by magazines, humming to herself as she goes to work with the scissors and glue. Pauline cuts bright glossy pictures of film stars and singers and pastes them into her scrapbook. And then, after much thought, chewing on her pen, she carefully writes a witty title or caption to accompany the new additions. See, she was always a collagist, this incipient woman of Pop.

Pauline vs Albert in Four Arguments
What’s our next scene? Actually it’s a medley of scenes, with the singular purpose of demonstrating Pauline Boty’s strong identity formation in reaction to overbearing males. Pauline was building resilience and an outspoken confidence through surviving Albert, Arthur, the twins, and men at large.  

The next argument occurs on a family holiday. First scene: the Boty family are crowded into the car driving through the countryside on a hot summer’s day. Dad’s sat at the wheel with sweat marks coming through his shirt. All the kids crowded into the back seat of the Morris Estate have moist, shiny brows. The family dog barks. Perched at the very back of the overstuffed vehicle, crowded in among the suitcases, picnic basket, tennis rackets and beach towels, the dog barks once, then twice. Then a third time as the camera disappears over the Labrador’s yapping jaws and out through the back window to get a view of the darkening grey sky above. 

Pauline Boty, Boating
Boty steams ahead

The family are heading for East Anglia. The Botys had a boat on the Norfolk Broads and often took their summer vacation in the network of canals and rivers and marshes. We have a photo of Pauline at the wheel, steering. 

The camera takes this still photograph and develops it into a scene between Pauline and Albert where they argue over the correct way to handle the family launch. Dad insists on a strict protocol of actions to be observed while performing waterbound manoeuvres: be it parking the boat, reversing, giving way, or leaving adequate space for passing crafts. But Pauline resists – she’s a natural, a winger, the sort who prefers to feel her way through any given situation. This mini Boty prefers the freestyle approach to life. 

Albert’s commands feel overbearing. He shouts at Pauline for not obeying. She shouts back over the chug of the diesel motor and then capitulates as grouchy dad reasserts his command of the wheel – Before we have a catastrophe, he says, quite unrealistically, given that the water is tranquil and they are the only craft in sight. 

Pauline retreats to a seat on deck. A blue vinyl bench with a rip and tufts of yellow foam protruding. She looks angrily over the side of the boat, into the water, then up at dad, and finally, crossly at the indifferent pewter sky. 

Bungalow at the Broads, Pauline Boty, 1953
Bungalow at the Broads

The next scene is at night. On the porch of the Boty’s rented summer cottage, nestled in trees near the water’s edge. Father and mother are enjoying the warm evening air, both sipping on a sweet white wine, while through the window the camera travels with an elegant flow, locating Pauline curled up on her bed in a wood-panelled bedroom hutch. The young Boty is making a sketch of a building not unlike the one she’s sitting in. Though occupied, young Boty is clearly sad. Pauline’s close friends through puberty observed that Boty’s many arguments with her father lowered her moods. How much is the final cost, the sum total of generational conflict during the awkward adolescent years?

The next scene stages a third argument. It is two summers later.  Pauline is more grown up – a young woman really. She is wearing a swimming costume sunbathing in the family garden on a rare sunny weekend, when dad catches Arthur’s friend Toby ogling his daughter. Albert berates Pauline and sends her inside to change and cover up. He speaks obsequiously to Arthur’s friend Toby, who, it transpires, is the son of a local Conservative councillor.

Pauline Boty in her swimsuit

The next scene takes place at the breakfast table. Pauline often challenged her father over breakfast, despite this being the worst time to go to war with the patriarch. Two repeated subjects for disagreement were money and freedom. In this scene they argue about splashing out on new shoes for Pauline, who wants something more fashionable to wear to a party – a party which Albert feels she shouldn’t attend anyway, convinced, despite a total lack of evidence, that it is too grown up for his daughter. 

Pauline argues her case forcefully. Of course she does. Her determined petitioning is keeping Albert from the morning paper. He shouts back finally, Okay then! She can have the blasted shoes, he exclaims to Veronica who is making eggs. Go to the party! He cries. And know that I will die an unhappy man. 

Pauline smiles at her victory. But the delight is short lived and her face quickly dissolves to pensive. 

Pauline Boty as a student

And then there was change. And change reconfigured the terms of engagement in the Boty household. 

Veronica contracted TB and fell seriously ill as the family tipped into a period of worry and uncertainty, during which the power structure shifted.  We see Veronica in bed at the hospital looking like she might die. And then Veronica is seen returning home, frail and vulnerable. A brief chain of capsule shots dramatise how she had to be cared for, and that a lot of this care falls upon Pauline, who is shown keeping Veronica’s cutlery separate, and her tea cup and dinner plate also quarantined to reduce risk of infection. 

For a period, the family subtly fell apart. Dinner times were either silent or they were simply skipped. Pauline was expected to take over as the mother of the house. She resisted the role and on occasions refused to cook the evening meal. We witness once again how conflict and upheaval bring a sadness into Boty’s world. She continued to suffer depression into her adult life, especially in her later years. 

However, there were also gains. Veronica’s illness upended the rigid family structure. Not only did Albert struggle to cope, but  without the undergirding of Veronica, his perpetual helpmeet and fixer, Albert’s position as presiding despot was weakened. He became less draconian. In this loosening of authority, a new kind of freedom could be seen peeping through the cracks. Pauline rushed towards this independence as she started to slip away. She confided to Nell Dunn many years later, ‘I like chaos in a way.’

Untitled (John reading) Pauline Boty sketch, 1955Pauline Boty, Self Portrait, 1955

The Letter
And then a new wonder drug comes onto the market, an antibiotic treatment restoring Veronica to good health. 

Mum returns to active service. She resumes in her bright kitchen and floral apron, once again with the superfluous artist’s paintbrush to complete our re-establishing sketch. A glass of sherry, with Mario Lanza on the radio, as Veronica adds the finishing touches to an elaborate trifle. 

This kitchen scene fades slowly by way of a fancy Iris shot. A masking filter fades large areas of the frame to grey, with the last item on screen a small bright oval featuring Veronica’s fingers placing a cherry at the the centre of the elaborate pudding.

After which, the next scene opens with a complementary reverse Iris shot. The screen is mostly greyed out, except for a small circle tightly focussed on a letter that has just arrived onto the doormat of the Boty residence. The camera pulls back as the screen brightens to encompass the front door, coat stand, boot rack and a small bureau for storing scarves and gloves. But the key feature remains that letter. 

This is to be a pivotal scene in Part Two. 

It is morning and the most important meal of the day is about to begin. We know already to look out for fireworks over breakfast. Pauline is fourteen and the letter on the mat contains important information concerning her hopes for the future. The envelope is fancy and stands out from the cluster of brown notices and bills

The post has just arrived. One of the twins comes down the stairs and into frame – it could be John, or Albert junior. Let’s say that it’s John who quickly bends over and collects the post. The camera closes in on the bright envelope in his hand, which almost glows as it is carried along –  through the hall, into the living room, across the sitting room, and into the kitchen, where the letter, or The Letter, is carefully placed on the breakfast table, prominently positioned at the side of dad’s breakfast setting, propped up by the toast rack, situated between Albert’s Cornflake bowl and the large brown family teapot. 

This breakfast table setting is captured in a tight close up before the camera pulls back to a medium shot of Dad he contemplates The Letter with a mix of curiosity and pretend indifference. And then Albert looks over towards Veronica, who is also looking at the letter. And then we follow his gaze across to Pauline, who is also gazing upon the same hot item. The envelope is cream, diamond flapped, with a pearlescent finish – but equally, it could be in the shape of a small black spherical bomb from a Tex Avery animation, with its wick fuse lit and ready to blow up shortly. 

Pauline knows for certain where the letter is from and what it concerns. What she doesn’t know, yet, is if it’s good news or bad new. If it says Yes or No. And the suspense is torture.  

Well, Open it! demands young Boty. 

In time, young lady, replies Albert.

Open it, Albert.

Dad does as Veronica says. He reaches for the letter knife. He pauses, as if struck by a thought, and then continues and slits through the top of the heavy paper like a seasoned accountant. He takes out the letter. He puts on his copper reading glasses. 

The camera zooms in over Albert’s shoulder. We gaze down upon the headed notepaper: Wimbledon School of Art, it says, with heraldic coat of arms embossed across the top. The camera races down the typed letter to the key paragraph, which lights up on the page as if conveyed via a celestial beam. We close in on the concluding sentence. The lens is impatient, running across the line in a rush, picking out the key words: ‘great pleasure’ ‘offer’ ‘scholarship’ ‘September.’  

Dad looks up from the offer letter. Cocks an eyebrow. Sighs. Wrinkles his nose with mild disgust. 



Well, says Albert. He Sniffs. Shakes his head. Says, No. Sets his chin, No. And that is all he will say – No. 

The letter flops onto the table cloth. Veronica grabs it and reads the contents out loud. Pauline already understands that this is her opportunity and that her father will reflexively and carelessly seek to block her escape hatch to the sky. The camera swivels to young Boty, who has taken the table in both hands and seems ready to launch herself into the airspace directly above the cereal packet and the tea pot. 

As Pauline sucks in extra oxygen preparing her loud cry of disgust, Veronica seizes the lead. She silences her daughter, which is rare, as she takes the battle to Albert by herself. Rarely down the years has wife directly challenged husband. Any traction has been achieved through quiet, back-channel diplomacy. But not this time. This is the woman whose overbearing father refused to let her go to art college. Veronica often spoke against the culture’s mistreatment of women and was determined her daughter would get a good education. Better still, an art education. 

Albert, she almost barks. 

Dad returns her look defiantly. But we the viewer regard his shifting eyes and intuit that for all the talk, there’s no real fight in Albert on this one. 

Albert, she repeats. 

Funny how saying a person’s name in a particular style is all the words you need. Albert stares at Veronica. In a few seconds his implacability wilts. He was determined to say No. But how much does he actually really want No? Dad hasn’t the stomach for another fight. How much conflict does he have left inside? Kids wear you down. 

Albert says, Fine! Go! And then he does something he will forget in seconds, but Pauline will regret for many years to come. Albert makes a superfluous, hurtful comment. He says, You might as well go, Pauline, as you’ll never need a proper job anyway. Why would you work, have a career, when all a woman needs is a husband? 
Albert breathes deeply. And then you will have him to argue with, he drawls with a broken-up voice. God give him strength.

At this, Albert leaves the table, allowing his splayed serviette to drop to the floor and his boiled egg to go half uneaten as he exits the room.

Untitled (girl on the beach) Pauline Boty painting 1958/9Anna, painting by Pauline Boty, 1955

It’s true – of course it’s true – that Albert’s inability to intellectually summon the concept of a woman working independently, left him vulnerable to Pauline’s demands. If a young woman is merely marking time, waiting to be married off and will never need to earn a living for herself – then she may as well go paint until her marrying prince rides along – get the art bit out of her system.

The Wimbledon Bardot
The summer before college, Pauline sails to New York with Veronica to visit some of their emigre family in North America. 

Pauline Boty on the QE2, 1954
a period floral dress on the QE2

The screen fills with colourful snapshots, of Pauline in a Cadillac,  at the diner, putting a song on the jukebox, wearing a yellow slicker on a trip to Niagara Falls (Marilyn Monroe also went to Niagara). Sh Boom Sh Boom was number one that summer, a doo wop hit by The Crew Cuts that will make a good soundtrack to the montage – which continues with Veronica and Pauline in New York, visiting fashion outlets on Fifth Avenue, the make-up counter at Bloomingdale’s, holding onto their hats as they crane their necks to gaze up the side of a gigantic skyscraper. The broad avenues, yellow taxi cabs, brownstones, the riot of neon signs – a series of dissolves that replicate the saturated, oblique photography of Saul Leiter. A corner grocery store overflowing with bright supersized fruit, a giant hopper of popcorn at the cinema, post-war American affluence and abundance.  

Saul Leiter, Phone Call 1957
New York by Leiter

This condensed chain of American slides illustrate how Pauline has grown-up to be beautiful, tall, smiling and dynamic. At Wimbledon College of Art, she is courted by many. The camera follows Pauline, through the college common rooms and student canteen, moving in slow motion, her long blonde hair floating in the air, an apparition of beauty and life. All eyes are upon Boty, not just the camera lens, as we cut to the face of a girl observing this ebullient apparition. Then the face of a boy observing. Then tutor, porter, cleaner, a trio of dinner ladies, the college dean.

Pauline comes out

To underline Pauline’s impact and the beam coming off her bright presence, we run through a second series of faces, each of them addressing the camera declaring one-word eulogies of Boty: ‘splendid’ ‘wonderful’ ‘lovely’ ‘incredible’ ‘talented’ ‘beautiful’ ‘so beautiful’

Pauline Boty, Untitled (golden nude)

Boty studied art and crafts at Wimbledon, with a specialism in stained glass. Early on, Pauline paints an untitled nude that is accepted for the prestigious art show Young Contemporaries. First we see the young artist in the studio at her easel, painting with a mix of intensity and delight. A female life model is positioned on a central dais, facing away, her round bottom turned to the camera before Pauline asks her to swivel round to reveal her front. We dissolve from the nude model, to Pauline’s canvas, and then to the finished piece on display at the art show, as the camera smoothly reverses its gaze to observe Pauline in medium close-up regarding her painting hanging on the wall. 

Veronica is stood at Pauline’s side. Pauline steps over the rope to stand next to the painting while Veronica takes her daughter’s photo with a Rolleiflex.

From out of this moment flows a quick montage of Pauline’s prentice work, leading from the sketch of her brother, a bungalow on the Broads, to a Self Portrait, Anna, Untitled (girl on a beach), Untitled (golden nude) again, and concluding with Untitled (self portrait). 

Untitled (self portrait) Pauline Boty, 1955

Pauline’s tutor group at Wimbledon was small and included other talented young female artists. It was led by a sympathetic and supportive male art teacher who was interested in new departures in art and ‘unusually encouraging of women students’. 

The camera barrels down a long corridor at Wimbledon – to the far end and a room tucked out of sight. The camera finds a small studio space where three or four women, and a similar number of earnest young men, were allowed to ‘just get on with their thing, being avant garde behind closed doors,’ as a contemporary described the mood inside – ‘encouraged to be free, doing things the dean of the college didn’t want to hear about.’ 

Untitled (still life with brushes) Pauline Boty 1959

We already know that Pauline Boty was special. She was a woman who made it happen through personal drive and effervescence and a confidence developed through the frequent battles of her early years. But Boty’s rise is also a story of a confluence of promising circumstances, a liberal environment, good teacher, and like-minded students.

From the tucked away space at the far end of the corridor, the camera follows Pauline and her classmates as they walk along through the building to the college common room. They sit as a group and drink some kind of frothy coffee and light filterless cigarettes and discuss art and life and college gossip.

Wimbledon School of Art, The School of Stained Glass, including Pauline Boty, 1956
Pauline and the Wimbledon gang

This canteen scene is a detailed take, with the detail being in the period dressings, the clothes and interiors and speech patterns and the blue fug of all that smoking. 

Pauline and one of her female friends break off from the larger group to relocate to a table of their own. Pauline looks around at the other students, at the rest of their year, and she pulls a face. Look at these other students, just filling in time till they get married, says Pauline.  (These are Boty’s words as reported by a fellow student.) The friend listens as Boty continues. We show the listener’s face using a camera coming in over Boty’s shoulder. The listener temporarily breaks off eye contact from Pauline and looks directly into the camera. Pauline was always very ambitious, she says with a neutral voice. Always very ambitious.

They’re just filling in time till they get married, repeats Pauline in disbelief. That’s not what I want. I want to be a painter. I’m a serious artist.

Untitled (still life with chair, black jug and drum) Pauline Boty, 1955

A Serious Artist
Boty goes on solo student trips to Paris. As any serious artist must. Historical home of the avant garde; cradle of new existentialism; boites and chansons with Juliette Gréco and Françoise Hardy; Cahiers du Cinéma; the left bank look – black jumper, black slimline trousers, black headband

At a gallery near Concorde, Pauline admires Cezanne, Degas, Matisse and Picasso. A handsome young man with curly brown hair and a Roman nose, wants to speak with her. He trails Boty through several rooms, then approaches at the exit. Speaking in an cracked, cratered English, head slightly bowed in a courtly manner, he makes his pitch, Good Day, Mrs, he says, Would you come to the coffee with me? 

Untitled (Notre Dame) Pauline Boty, 1957

Boty smiles and uses her school French to decline his offer of a hot beverage. An amused voice in Pauline’s head observes that, Wherever I walk, men ask me to join them for coffee.

Back in London, she repeats the same line. She says it out loud to a college friend on a trip to an East End gallery. But the artworks are very different to Paris. This is Whitechapel Art Gallery. And This Is Tomorrow. 

This Is Tomorrow, Poster for Whitechapel Gallery Show, 1956
wishing you were here

Through the mid to late 1950s, the mood on the London art scene starts to go Pop. The paintings Pauline admired in France are getting to look past it. The Independent Group of artists sport a new domestic style, incorporating mass culture from America, consumer products and design, collage and cerebral experiments in fun. The group meet at the ICA; disseminate their new ideas via the art magazine Ark; and contribute much of the stand-out work for Whitechapel’s seismic show of 1956, This Is Tomorrow

Richard Hamilton, John McHale, Magda Cordell stuff the Whitechapel with dazzle panels; pop art readymades of Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe and Van Gogh; stills from Forbidden Planet; a jukebox and a bottle of Guinness; spaceships, robots; spare bike parts and a clock without hands; a feedback loop and a film projector; commentaries on authorship and the effects of mass media. A Pop art work by Hamilton captures the new thinking: Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Just what was it that made yesterday's homes so different, so appealing? Richard Hamilton collage, 1952
in every dream home a Pop artist

We dissolve from Hamilton’s painted collage to an art magazine populated with science fiction comic strips and movies, polemics with loud typography written by the emerging stars of Pop. The camera makes the magazine pages scroll past with a flip book of striking layouts – the whistle stop montage takes in more pieces by Hamilton and his peer Eduardo Paolozzi, and a cartoon animation of artist Peter Blake collecting artefacts from everyday life – sweet wrappers, comics, cigarette cards, medals, badges and other kinds of collectibles and memorabilia.

We swing away from the scrolling magazine pages to a close-up of Pauline’s face. She raises a curious eyebrow at what she’s just seen, then carefully places the magazine on the floor of her studio space at Wimbledon as she returns to work on her own creation. 

The ever-encouraging tutor walks past. The tutor looks over Pauline’s shoulder at her multi-media piece combining fabric and gold paper and oil on canvas, and he says something trite and on-message, something bland like, Good, Pauline, collage. (Yes, I know it sounds stagey. But exploration in the plastic arts, the boldly seeking out of new frontiers, will also have its simple Eureka moments, just like everybody else does.

We see Boty sat on her bum, on splintered dark wooden floorboards stained with years of paint spatter, gathering up her ragbag of items – postcards, bottle tops, shop labels, pieces of torn posters, bus tickets, cut-up fragments of images from magazines, brochures and catalogues. We flashback momentarily to the younger Pauline at home in her teenage bedroom, on her pink candlewick bedspread, playing with her cut-ups and scrapbook and glue. 

The camera then swings back to grown-up Paula rummaging through a wastepaper basket for art materials, and then outdoors, in central London, sifting through a stash of vintage photos at a market stall on a shopping trip with a friend. 

The girlfriend drags Pauline away from these boring old photos and postcards. Never old things on a Tuesday, she says. 

Why on earth not?

Bad luck, says the friend, and pulls an enigmatic face.

They laugh and walk inside a clothes boutique, then out again, then into another boutique, where they sift through clothes rails for a segue of several fashion pieces from the era’s demi monde. Pauline’s look is pencil skirts, V neck jumpers, wide skirts with net petticoats, narrow black trousers, slip-on shoes  and the bucket bag we saw briefly in Part One on her day at the BBC.

I just like to wear sloppy things, Pauline says out loud (Boty’s actual words, spoken to Nell Dunn). Her lips are sealed however for the next sentence, which is spoken in an interior voice –  But also occasionally be all sort of delicious and very feminine. 

With this inner statement trailing, the camera cuts to Boty emerging from the boutique clothes cubicle wearing what she called her ‘Bardot-esque dress’ – as a variation of the celebrated photograph of Boty as The Wimbledon Bardot finally comes to life.

Pauline Boty, The Wimbledon Bardot
Bardot, c’est moi

Within this pupal moment, Boty’s inner voice analyses her performance as an emergent woman, examining what is happening to her – switching from object to subject. Boty paraphrases Simone de Beauvoir, who considered Bardot the incarnation of authentic pure desire: ‘She does as she pleases, and that is what is disturbing.’ The screen becomes a carousel of multiple revolving circles, images of Brigitte, Boty, de Beauvoir and the jacket illustration of her book. ‘Bardot is man’s fellow and equal… she asserts that between the woman and him there is mutual desire and pleasure.’

Brigitte Bardot and the Lolita Syndrome, Simone de Beauvoir

But are the boys of Wimbledon College of Art – those awkward, callow rugrats – ready for Bardot/Boty’s mutual desire and pleasure?

We fade to the next scene. Daytime, interior shot of the canteen. Pauline walks in looking glamorous. She joins a group of students gathered round the main table. A boy is talking about Picasso. Pauline hoots, says she’d rather have Paolozzi. The boy is stung and aggravated. He feels he must retaliate. He attacks Boty as a woman. He asks, Why do you wear so much red lipstick? At this, Pauline is supposed to feel put back in her girl box. But she just laughs and jumps at him across the table shouting, All the better to kiss you with!

The boy recoils. He gets up and leaves the gathering and walks away from the table. But then he must run, as Boty chases him off through the canteen exit. (This happened. I didn’t invent this scene.)

BUNK! Evadne in Green Dimension, Eduardo Paolozzi, 1952

We know that Boty spoke openly about sex and acted upon her belief in female sexual autonomy and desire. Boty can embody an  exciting sense of female liberation and energy. Her actions, her voice, her presence, exude promise and possibility. 

But there was to be a dark side to all this. There had to be a dark side. Boty’s pulchritude was a key part of her story, but also a complicatory drag. Boty felt categorised and judged for being a beauty, as just this Thing to most men, she said, Who only really want one thing – to fuck.

Pauline was often pestered. In the street, on the bus, at college, by fellow students. And then by some of her teachers. The excitement of the Pauline chasing away the boy with her bright lips, is flipped by the next piece of action, which finds Boty bothered by a creepy tutor. 

And pestered and cornered and stalked. 

The chain of scenes of the sex pest besieging the ingenue, connected by slow dissolves and fade-ins, reeks of sleaze and the abuse of position – as well as the fatiguing quality of unwanted attention, how it wears you down. The audience sympathises and understands, but also inwardly cringes as we watch Pauline give way and, for the sake of an easy life, she finally sleeps with the tutor. 

Pauline submits because the tutor has seniority. And because she wants shot of him. The submission scene includes a brief ceiling shot of Boty flat on her back, in a half-lit college bedroom, the tutor pounding away on top, as Pauline gazes at the woodchip ceiling waiting for him to be done. Her eyes are bored and lifeless.

The next morning, in class, the tutor says something acid about Boty’s work during a crit session. He scolds her in front of the other students. He does this to Pauline because she slept with him and he resents her for this submission – it’s better than hating yourself. The tutor’s comment also indicates that he doesn’t take Pauline seriously as an artist.

In the next scene, Pauline explores the situation with a college friend.

(Is it always the same friend. Does she have a name? Will we name her, or not? Is it a minor part of substance, the role of Boty’s college friend? A minor performance of note for a newcomer who will grow to be a lead and later on, we will need to be reminded that we first saw such and such in Boty, The Movie? Of course, had things turned out differently, the same might have happened with Pauline after Alfie. We will get to that later)

So, Pauline talks to her College Friend about the sex pest tutor. Once again, but for the last time, we find ourselves positioned in the college canteen, around another Formica-topped table, over another cup of frothy coffee, with an old sardine tin for an ashtray.

The friend cocks both eyebrows to make a chevron, says, Well?

Pauline shrugs. Shakes her head. Says it’s no big deal. Grey sex, she says. Routine grey sex.

They both smile.

He won’t take you seriously. 

Says Pauline, Did he already? But I know what you mean.

She reports the tutor’s put down in class. The friend pulls a sympathetic face, but it is also a bit of a told-you-so expression.

Yes, I understand, says Pauline, I’m not nuts. But you know, I have a father who shouts at me all the time. My three brothers used to tie me up and leave me in the woods. Attacked me for being a girl. It’s a man’s world, you know. My mother always said. A man’s world. One grey man in a smelly suit. Ten grey men in smelly suits. A thousand of them. I don’t mind. If I worry about it too much, I will go nuts. 

Pauline sets her chin. Plainly the tutor’s misbehaviour stirs a defiance. It’s not a setback but a spur, a regrouping of the young artists’s tenacity. Women should fight back, says Pauline. We’re more than just sex objects.

At this, Pauline rises to leave. Once more, the frothy coffee remains unfinished. We follow Boty as she marches out the canteen. The next shot she is seen exiting through the gates of Wimbledon College for the last time – bold, confident, talented, aware of what she faces, and eager to take it on. Pauline’s ready – maybe somehow she can have it all. In voiceover we hear Boty reciting a rallying cry in the near future, from one of her performances on the radio, the monologue she recorded in Part One: A revolution is on the way… and if these young woman horrify you, they mean to. 

Pauline Boty

Pauline departs Wimbledon College and jumps straight onto an open back Routemaster bus. (I wonder if I should find out what number?) 

Blink twice and the next scene finds the same bus arriving to a mainline railway station in central London. Pauline hops off. But she’s dressed differently. She’s kitted out for a summer vacation, with rolled up denims and espadrilles, hair in bunches, and a khaki rucksack on her back. Boty’s walking across the threshold – yes the literal, but also the symbolic, liminal verge of something new. 

Boty enters a sooty Victoria Station with bright period travel posters, with men wearing bowler hats and rolled umbrellas criss-crossing the concourse, while women with headscarves and summer macs and brown tights do the same. We watch from a high distance, from a godlike vantage, as Boty crosses to a trio of girlfriends, waiting under the main clock. The camera suddenly zooms in close to Boty and co, as they turn and head off to catch the boat train for France. 

We proceed to the traditional movie package, a travel montage of trains overlayered with iconic European landmarks. The rushing continental express train merges into a shot of the Eiffel Tower. Red carriages blend with a gondola on the Grand Canal. Racing rail tracks dissolve into the leaning tower of Pisa and the Colosseum. There’s a kaleidoscope of red and white check table cloths, baguettes, baroque palaces with gardens and fountains, Italian scooters, heaped plates of pasta, wine bottles in straw baskets, breadsticks, period luggage with bright destination stickers. 

And then, as we emerge from Boty’s highlights reel, the films slows and finally comes to a stop in Rome, at a women’s hostel near the Piazza Navona. 

It is late evening. Just inside curfew. In the hostel’s communal wash room, Boty meets a young English woman and they start to talk. The women stand side by side in front of the handbasins, looking into the pocked mirrors above the taps. Pauline says she likes the woman’s night shirt, says, I could only like someone who wore a shirt like that to sleep.

This open friendliness of Pauline melts hearts. The two young women swaps reports of their travels. Pauline says the boys in Rome are like bees, a swarm of bees, and the other young woman says, Terrible gnats and midges. 


No, midges, small flying insects.

They giggle as the scene dissolves to the next morning over a real Italian frothy coffee sat out on a busy Roman cafe terrace in Technicolor, as they decide to join forces and go sightseeing together. 

Boty is wearing a striped top through a selection of landmarks and museums and a meal on a restaurant on a hill.

Two days later and the time has come for the two women to part company. Different trains to different countries. The one with the nightshirt observes Boty depart from the hostel early in the morning. She looks down from the dormitory bedroom window at a tight angle, a little sad – like an Antonioni shot from L’Eclisse, or early on in Beyond the Clouds, observing a departing character of significance, as they head down the road – a simple exit that last longs and weighs heavily. 

The woman watches and waits, but Boty doesn’t turn to wave, she doesn’t look back. The young friend sighs. She moves away from the window and back into the room. She looks into the camera in the pale morning light and speaks to the lens. Her hands are clenched in a knot. I hoped Pauline would turn round and wave, she says. But of course she didn’t look back. How could she? Pauline was rushing into the next moment. And the next moment after that…. 

My name is Margaret Drabble and I write books. I never ever saw Pauline again. I always expected to be Pauline’s friend once we returned to London. But we never got round to it. I  didn’t see the hurry. But I was mistaken. I went back to England and eventually I wrote novels and married and had babies. Pauline Boty’s life was very different and very fast. 

In Drabble’s second novel, The Garrick Year (1964), she writes these lines for her frustrated lead character. ‘What had happened to me, that I, who had seemed cut out for some extremity or other, should be here now bending over a washing machine to pick out a button or two and some bits of soggy wet cotton? … They would not think much of me now, I thought, if they could see me, those Marxists in Rome, historians and photographers in Hampstead…’

Pauline Boty

In London, Boty and Drabble’s social scenes were adjacent, but never quite overlapped. While Drabble gets busy raising a young family, she observes from a distance Boty’s star rising – up, up, up and away. That’s Pauline in the papers; Pauline on the radio; Pauline on television. While Drabble looks on, she also looks forward to meeting the artist once again and developing their friendship. 

I thought we had all the time in the world, says Drabble. And then I read in the newspaper that Pauline Boty was dead. Drabble looks mournfully at her bunched hands. So, we don’t have all the time in the world, she remarks. 

It is a key theme of the Boty story – speed. Everything seemed to happen quickly. The velocity of social change as long-held values were upended and tossed. Any film of Boty’s life depends on immediacy. This is why we need the fast edits and portmanteau  scenes, so to get the kinetics of turnover and change. 

There’s this temptation to reach for the films of Boty’s era, to  plunder the energy and flare of early landmark movies by Richard Lester – A Hard Day’s Night, Help, The Knack… The self-conscious buzz; the mobile jumpy camera; the slide edits; the strong angles and staccato tone. But is that too much like doubling up? Must a film about the early 1960s be shot in a groovy early 60s’ style? The allure of pastiche is to be submitted to, or resisted firmly?

For now, this marks the spot where Pauline’s formative years end. The conclusion of Part Two of the blogpiece. 

The next session – in a week or so – finds Pauline at art college, or Art College, where the gears change up and rapidly for the emerging Pop artist.

Untitled (self portrait with cat) Pauline Boty 1958
Untitled (self portrait with cat) Pauline Boty, 1958