#Crucial21DbW: Leading Lady Parts directed by Jessica Swale


My dad is a lighting designer, so I grew up in the theatre and on film sets, completely captivated by the art of bringing stories to life. I went on to get my Masters in Theatre, and as a woman, it was just understood that there were more good parts for men than women. We were told not to put our real age or weight on our audition forms, and that we’d have to agree to unreasonable standards if we wanted to work. Sound familiar?

And then Time’s Up happened. In an effort to raise awareness about the different pressures women face in the film industry, a team of top talent came together to make a BBC comedy short that would confront the ugly truth head-on – and make you laugh in the process. Jessica Swale—an Olivier Award-winning playwright, director, and screenwriter—wrote and directed this memorable project, which is the first in a planned series.

Leading Lady Parts

In the film, several women come in to audition for the Leading Lady part. They are beautiful, diverse, and vulnerable. To us, they’re icons. In Hollywood, they’re meat. And somehow, in the eyes of the casting panel, they fall short. We can laugh because it’s a comedy, but the sad truth is that these scenarios were drawn from life.

It sounds absurd to ask anyone to be “thin and curvy, sexy and innocent”, but that is exactly the stereotypes that women are confronted with in the industry. And to be honest, that’s old news. Helmed by professionals, however, the struggles that women have faced for centuries take on fresh relevance in this conversation-sparking short.

And they don’t just shed light on the disparities between genders, they tackle racial struggles as well. Wunmi Mosaku isn’t allowed to audition at all because of her skin colour (after being mistaken for a coffee runner) and Gemma Chan is told to act more white.


The interruptions and demands are so constant that we never even find out what the leading lady part would say if she could because women are not expected to have a voice in Hollywood. Hopefully, with films like these, that will begin to change.

Time’s Up.

Follow Jessica Swale on Instagram and Twitter.


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