Feature film set to honour women’s football trailblazer Rose Reilly
Now the remarkable story of Rose Reilly, who left her native Ayrshire when she was just 17 and went on to be voted the best player in the world, is set to be turned into a major feature film.
Chris Young, one of Scotland’s leading film and TV producers is working with Reilly and Lorna Martin, the writer of a recent stage play on her footballing exploits to bring her story to the big screen.
The film, which is hoped to go into production in the summer, will explore Reilly’s incredible rise to prominence in Italian football, where she won eight league titles, four Italian Cups and was twice crowned a “golden boot” winner.
At her peak in 1983, she captained the Italian national side to a World Cup victory against the United States before a 90,000-strong crowd in China.
However Reilly’s efforts went almost unrecognised for decades in Scotland, where the football authorities had slapped a lifetime ban on her while she was making a career overseas.
Reilly, who was belted at school and expelled for playing football with boys, left for France after her country was the only one in Europe to refuse to recognise women’s football as a professional sport.
Reilly’s achievements were only formally recognised in 2007 when she was inducted into an official Scottish Football Hall of Fame, but she was still largely unknown until a 2019 BBC Alba documentary.
Martin started work on a play after being sent the documentary by theatre director Maureen Carr. It was postponed by the pandemic, however Martin started work on the screenplay during lockdown after sending the script to a number of producers.
Young, who got back to Martin immediately to express interest in a film about the footballer, has acquired the film rights to Reilly’s life story after meeting her several times to discuss the project.
Young said: “I hadn’t heard of Rose Reilly at all until Lorna sent me her play. Within about three minutes of reading it I had decided I wanted to make a film.
“It was an absolutely incredible story and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard of Rose.
“She completely put two fingers up to everyone and went on to win the World Cup, for goodness sake. You couldn’t invent that.”
Young, who is best known as the producer of The Inbetweeners, is currently making a feature film on the Isle of Lewis.
The British Film Institute (BFI), one of the backers of the Hebrides-set coming-of-age drama Silent Roar, is helping develop the Rose Reilly film.
He added: "I want it to capture the audacity, joy and incredible spirit of a 17-year-old who has been told by everybody that what she wanted to do was not welcome in this country, and her bravery in leaving Scotland.
“I want to do something that encourages young women, not just in Scotland but everywhere, to do what they want to do with their lives and encourages anyone who has a dream to follow it.
“But I want to make a film that also tears to pieces and makes a mockery of the football authorities in Scotland and totally shames everybody who allowed themselves to be aligned with them.”
Reilly said: “From day one, there were obstacles in my way, there was physical punishment and I didn’t have a safe haven. I just decided to battle on with my love and passion for the game.
"I wasn’t doing anything wrong and I didn’t know why everybody wanted to stop me. But there was no stopping me, obviously.”
Martin, co-creator of the TV comedy series Women on the Verge, said: “It’s such a powerful, inspiring and long-overdue story. She had incredible success, but faced so much sexism and misogyny in Scotland.
"She just refused to accept what she was told over and over again – that football wasn’t a game for girls.
"At that time, if they wanted to play football they were seen as a bit of a freak, a weirdo or an aberration. Rose had this incredible strength of character - she just seemed to be born to play football.”
Reilly was propelled back into the limelight last month when Martin’s play was staged at Oran Mor in Glasgow and the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh.
She said: “I thought the idea of a film was a wee bit bonkers at first. But I also thought the idea of doing a play about someone who played football was bonkers. I thought it would be too difficult to do, but I didn’t realise how skilled Lorna was as a writer.
“I went to see the play a lot – I was completely engrossed in it and also wanted to support the actress, Christina Strachan, who was absolutely phenomenal. Every time I went to see it I would go out after the show. She took on so many of my traits.
“There was a lot of laughter at it, but there was also a lot of crying, especially about the injustice of it all.”
Martin adds: “The current screenplay focuses on the period where she is pretty much forced to leave Scotland.
“Scotland doesn’t want her and has nothing for her. She is a teenager going on the adventure of a lifetime to follow this dream that she has.”
Reilly, a member of Scotland’s first women’s international team, was honoured at Hampden in 2019 when she was presented with a commemorative cap by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, 47 years after she faced England.
Reilly added: "In any walk of life, if we don’t have a voice where decisions are made, nothing changes and you only get token gestures.
“I was never angry with anyone at the Scottish Football Association. I just got on with it. If somebody has a problem with me that’s their problem. I don’t waste any time on them.
“But the SFA are one of the slowest football authorities in Europe, maybe even the world, to progress women’s football. We're always playing catch-up.”
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