Last Date tells the story of Lori and Jack, who in one evening on their first date, are caught in a repetitive build up of control and abuse that escalates dangerously. This social film drama is supported by the national charity Family Action.
The film leads us through a series of ‘signs’ as indications of dangerous behaviours. The narrative repeats itself, explicitly showing how Jack’s behaviour is building through applying charm, blame, jealousy, control and possession.
Below, Richard Penfold – Writer/Director of Last Date, talks about some of the aims and motivations of the film and techniques used to convey them.
Q. What is the aim of Last Date and how did you try to engage your audience?
Last Date’s ultimate aim is to be preventative, to show a young audience how abuse develops from charm to violence and for that experience to create further discussion around healthy relationships – specifically making explicit the warning signs that may one day protect them from harm.
Given the rise of domestic violence and abuse experienced by females aged 16-24, this unique approach felt like the most direct and engaging way to reach a young audience, providing something we felt would equip them moving forward into later life.
The construct of a first date was considered the most universal scenario to discuss the beginning of a relationship. For that relationship to manifest into one that is abusive, would mean that we could use that setting in a powerful and disruptive way.
By transporting the abuse from the confines of the home where secrecy and shame resides, we are able to isolate the behaviour, drawing it out into the public arena and showing it for what it is.
The same principle applies to the fast-tracking of time. By condensing the inherently gradual process of abuse into a single evening, and taking away the love and commitment that masks it, again brings sole focus to the behaviour. Ultimately posing the question to the audience that if we’d struggle to accept what happens in a single evening, what is it that happens over time to make so many endure it?
This is the big take home for our audience – not to victim blame or to hate all men, but to question and understand that time, love and context plays a major part in the development of abuse, and that no one goes into a relationship expecting the worst.
“And so the cycle would continue. Things would be great until they weren’t, and we’d start it all over again.”
Q. How did your research directly impact on the film?
Through our research, we learnt that the cycle of violence, or cycle of abuse, repeatedly escalates through a sequence of behaviour that starts with pursuit and promises and builds to verbal and sometimes physical assault. The longer these relationships continue in this vein, the more condensed that cycle becomes. Over time this repeating pattern becomes increasingly dangerous, forcing those at risk to seek refuge, or even be killed.
This repetitive nature of abuse, and the fact that many victims go back to their abusers is something that is depicted in Last Date. It is understandably the consequence of fear and control, but is in many ways the hardest thing to grasp as an outsider. It’s complex enough to understand why someone might not leave an abusive relationship, but to go back requires another level of empathy and compassion. Last Date actively encourages our audience to question why this might be, and where their own levels of acceptance lay.
“Experiencing coercive control is like being taken hostage; the victim becomes captive in an unreal world created by the partner, entrapped in a world of confusion, contradiction and fear.”
Q. How did you hope the lead characters would be perceived and what was your inspiration behind their roles?
Last Date doesn’t set out to pass judgement on our protagonist Lori. More – so to portray the contrast of her personality – from the spirited, vivacious, optimist at the start of the story to the desperate version of herself at the end. The repetitive transitions, where we jump between the two, goes some way to expressing the tragic nature of abuse and its eroding effect on those who suffer from it. It’s also there to remind us that Lori, like anyone going into a relationship, wants the best outcome and that this lasting hope is what continues to keep her at risk.
Our depiction of the abuser in Jack has also been taken seriously. He is an archetypal narcissist in that it is never his fault and Lori bears the weight of his insecurities. Despite being largely unsympathetic, I was keen to illustrate Jack as a tragic figure also caught up in a perpetual loop. The restaurant is his created domain, but it is also suffocating him. He has a constant sense of self-victimisation and entitlement which is driven by his disappointment in love not working on his terms.
Looking back, I think I was inspired most by the photograph of Nigella Lawson being grabbed by the throat by her then husband, Charles Saatchi. The glamorous setting of the table at the sophisticated London restaurant demonstrated to me that this person causing the pain feared no recompense for his actions. I imagined in his mind, he could do whatever he liked, whenever he liked and no one would ever have challenged him – I know now that this would have been intended to make Nigella feel even more alone and helpless, and the fact that no one would step in, not even the photographer capturing her at the end of their lens, for me made the entire image broken, and myself both helpless and complicit in viewing it.
Our hope is that Last Date will go some way to addressing this feeling for future audiences, encouraging them to think, ask questions and start discussions around relationships and be aware of how they can escalate into dangerous situations if control begins to manifest.
The film is accompanied by training resources for teachers and healthcare professionals. Visit https://sfd.elty.io/films/lastdate/ to find out how to license the film.
Richard Penfold | Writer/Director of Last Date
As Co-Founder and Creative Director of Bristol based Omni Productions, Richard has spent the last 18 years producing high-quality, award winning film content for globally recognised brands.
Within this time, he has strived to create work that makes a positive difference through education and awareness raising within the charity and public sectors. Last Date is the latest project written and directed by Richard for Social Film Drama, an organisation which delivers training films that aim to move and inspire people to change policy, practice and individual behaviour.
In 2009, for writing and co-directing the DV film Leaving, Richard was awarded a ‘Certificate of Excellence in Communication’ from the Attorney General; Baroness Scotland.