Conscious Uncoupling

Actor, comedian and now filmmaker, Mercedes Grower makes her directorial debut with Brakes, a bittersweet (and sometimes just bitter) series of vignettes featuring couples at the end – and later the beginning – of their relationships. An impressive cast includes Mighty Boosh stars Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt, Nighty Night’s Julia Davis, musician Roland Gift and actors Paul McGann, Kerry Fox and Peter Wight.

ASFF: How did this project start?
I’d been thinking about the idea for a long time. I’d been writing other comedy stuff, and a lot of people in the film are my friends. I’d been talking about the idea, because I found it quite fascinating, and everyone kept saying, “You’ve just got to do it” – especially Julia [Davis]. So I just started to do it.

ASFF: What intrigued you about the idea?
Everyone goes through these break-ups…it’s universal, but it feels so personal when it’s happening. It’s all so intense. You’re weirdly out of time with everyone else. And then I just kept thinking, “No one has ever made a film about that.” I just thought endings are really fascinating; they’re really depressing but really funny. They’re just really weird things to go through.

ASFF: These scenarios were all improvised, but were they based on personal experiences?
MG: No, I was trying to get them as varied as possible. That was the thing. It wasn’t so much that they were sorted out before the actors arrived, it was more figuring out what each couple would be before we did it. For example, Julia and I, we’re quite good friends, and we had more time together, so we talked about her scenario a lot. I liked the idea of her being more vulnerable than she normally is.

ASFF: You also play an ice-rink employee in the sequence with Noel Fielding. Did you always intend to play that role?
I was always going to do one, and I kept putting it off, and it was Noel that said, “When are you going to do yours?” And he said he’d do it with me, and then I suppose I wanted someone to freak out quite a lot … I wanted one person to go that extreme and I thought, “I’ll do that!”

ASFF: How did the production work? Did you shoot each short film one back-to-back?
MG: There were gaps. I didn’t have any money so I was filming on the good will of the crew and the actors. Everyone gave me a few hours here and there. It was a very small crew and it changed a fair bit – I had three DoPs and sometimes there’d be a friend on camera or another actor! Sound was difficult; it was always a really scrabble – who’s free that day? I did all the break-ups together, over a really long period of time. And then I did all the meet-ups relatively quickly, in a few months. It was a few years overall. The edit took a really long time too!

Brakes opens on 24 November. For more details, visit:

James Mottram

1. Still from Brakes.