Katherine MacAlister on the return of a young director

Vicky Jewson is in LA, wowing the studios with her next film project, Close. If they pick it up, as expected, Hollywood will pay all the production costs.

It will mean Vicky and her husband, Rupert Whitaker, won’t have to raise the money themselves, or write the script, produce, direct and film it between them on a budget that people snigger at, and then go out there and sell it.

That is what they took on with Born Of War, their new release, filmed mostly around Oxford and sold to 16 countries.

Not bad for the former Wychwood School pupil, who was responsible for the film Lady Godiva, which was widely panned.

But rather than crush her, Lady Godiva was the catalyst, inspiration, hair shirt, so when things got bad on the set of Born Of War and Vicky had to huddle in her car, ring her mother and admit she couldn’t take any more, the 29-year-old had to carry on, rather than be defined by her first film.

“It’s so hard to put the last five years into words,” Vicky says. “Lady Godiva was a romance story, which was really out of character for me. When I was younger, I was a total tomboy. I loved watching James Bond and World War Two movies with my dad.

“After filming Lady Godiva, aged 18, it really knocked my confidence, because I was so young and I wasn’t allowed to learn from my mistakes.

“Luckily, I don’t have an ego, but the death threats were quite hard to deal with.”

Her new film has changed all that. “Born Of War is now my calling card, even if it has been a steep learning curve,” she agrees.

Stemming from Vicky’s desire to feature strong, normal women in an action scenario, the plot is about a college student caught up in a Middle Eastern terrorist plot.

“Someone like you and me,” she explains, “Not someone in a catsuit with superpowers, but a real woman in an impossible situation.”

But Born Of War has been a labour of love from start to finish.

“There was such a pressure after Godiva to make a good film, that I wouldn’t compromise on anything, even when we had no time or money. I had to keep filming until I got it right. It was relentlessly stressful,” Vicky admits.

It took five years to complete and the results are impressive.

“We had to raise the money ourselves and set a budget of £300,000, which people laughed at. We could only raise £200,000, so started shooting anyway. Our Moroccan location folded, so we had to shoot in Jordan. And we had to beg, borrow and steal locations, props, jets and actors.”

Shooting took place at Kidlington Airport, Upper Heyford’s disused airbase, Farmoor petrol station, the Eagle Works in Jericho, Mansfield College, Carmel College and a quarry at Kirtlington.

Now back in Oxford, at their HQ in Farmoor, Vicky (director) and Rupert (producer) – who also run pop-up restaurant Oxford Field Kitchen – are looking to their next project, Close, about a female bodyguard. It is written and is being pitched.

“I wanted to continue the action trend, but make it even more real,” Vicky explains.

“It’s weird that, after having to push so hard for so long, everything is now happening so easily,” she says. “Although the UK market is the hardest to break. They don’t know what to do with a low budget non art-house action movie.

“But, for me, action is about conflict, drama and pace. And while I know what keeps people interested, it’s really all about the script.”

Q&A night
* Vicky Jewson and Rupert Whitaker will answer audience questions after a screening of Born Of War
* UPP Cinema, Cowley Road
* Wednesday, May 20, 6pm 
* uppcinema.com/film/born-of-war