I thought of “Beat Girl” as my first film, even if Vadim’s film “Les Liaisons Dangeureuses “was the very first one. The experience had bewildered me so, I preferred to put it behind me.
Beat Girl was Adam Faith’s first venture into acting. Our dressing rooms were next to each other. He was in love with Shirley Ann Field. Whenever she appeared, my materfamilias bustled loudly in my dressing room to cover any eventual sound coming from theirs. What impressed me about Adam was that he often talked about the business side of things. He seemed unusually adult. When he came close I was aware of him, but I didn’t show it, and he didn’t notice. He was eighteen and I was fifteen. “Jail bate,” he said to me later.
Oliver Reed had an energy all of his own. His uncle the film director Carol Reed helped get him a part in the film and Oliver had much to prove. He took over the car ride scene and invented for himself a character from some vague scratches in the script. Oliver Reed looked like I imagined a real film actor should: all glamour and electric gorgeousness. His hair was pure black as well as the smoky make-up around his doll-blue eyes; he stood tall; his voice was distinctive, as was his accent. Oliver was startling. Oliver was grand. He swept us through the afternoon rather like a buccaneer. We careened in our open jalopy screaming like banshees until sundown. This was the best time I’d had since jumping in a box on wheels and letting it speed down a country lane with no steerage and no brakes, in my last carefree summer, before the move to Paris.
What attracted my attention when I was given the part of Jennifer were two things. First, I would get to dance. A few months earlier Françoise Dorleac had invited me to join her when she went to clubs with her younger sister Catherine — this was before Catherine adopted the surname Deneuve. I was fourteen, I warned her but Françoise asked for permission, and it didn’t work. Playing at being Jennifer meant I could also vent my frustration, my disgust, the helplessness and despair, and the anger at what had happened to my life in the recent months. The film score was John Barry’s first. When he came to visit we all stopped while Adam and John huddled together. I knew then that John Barry must be good. I wouldn’t hear the theme music until the day. When the day came and the sound pumped through the floor my brain flipped, my feet followed and I was off — on my own — this was the life — let the lid stay open forever and ever…
The film was a big success in England but was banned in France. And so I had to start from scratch: Snakes and Ladders.
I found I had a hard time wiping Jennifer’s make-up from my eyes, I just couldn’t judge myself in the mirror any more. One year later, barely sixteen, I recognised the rush of Falling in Love, yet I was unable to respond. The promise of being allowed to date, with a proviso attached — that I should introduce my suitor first — had been revoked in a spectacular manner. Deeply upset, the next day I automatically screamed when the kiss came — quicksilver, light as a feather. Why was I, still, the docile daughter “Too young to really be in love”.
…“Too Young” — this was the first song I sang, up on a box at convent, I was seven, it was nearing Christmas and I saw girls lined up in lemon, powder blue, pink tutus, shiny slippers… I had arrived too late to join the Christmas ballet. But there was room for one more singer. When I got up on the podium and saw all those eyes… the teacher was waiting: Hurry up. I was good at remembering tunes, not words.
I stopped singing when the words ran out. I looked beyond the eyes, the teacher kept asking — then I was sent down. I walked through the open space the girls had left for me. Unbearable shame fizzed through me: they despised me now. I vowed I would be special next time.