POV: Where are the characters today?
Julie Moggan, director of Guilty Pleasures: Since the making of the film Hiroko and Seiich have participated in five more dance competitions, advancing to higher levels in the Japanese ballroom dance competition system. Hiroko no longer takes private lessons with Mr. Iijima. They have also recently taken up skiing – a new hobby that they can enjoy as a family.
Phil and Shirley have celebrated their 13th wedding anniversary this year. They continue to enjoy day trips around the north of England and Phil keeps the romance alive with unexpected gifts for Shirley. Most recently he surprised her with a Wii video game console (after she hinted she’d like to own one).
Shumita has moved on from Sanjay and is looking fantastic after going on a recent health kick. She has been writing poetry and recently held a small exhibition of her paintings in Delhi.
Stephen continues to model and has moved to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. He recently starred as the love interest in the music video for Jennifer Lopez’ single “Papi.” I believe he is currently single.
Roger (aka Gill Sanderson) continues to write ‘medical’ romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon from his caravan in the north of England. He is also hard at work on his long-held ambition to write a comic romance novel for a mainstream publisher.
POV: How did the characters react to seeing themselves in the documentary?
Julie Moggan: They are all happy with the film. Obviously, for each of them, there are moments that are difficult or painful to watch, but they all responded with tremendous grace and fully understood that the kind of film we were trying to make needed to show the complexity of their lives and the light and shade of their characters
I think that the main criticism to come up was just how little of what we filmed made it to the final film. Because this is an ensemble film it worked out that each character could have an average of 11 minutes of screen time (in the feature length version at least). And this was a huge challenge in the edit — to try and give a nuanced and rounded portrait of each character and their narrative journey in such a short space of time. I was really happy that Roger, Phil and Shirley were all able to come to the UK premiere at the London Film Festival and Stephen was able to come to the U.S. premiere at Full Frame. These screenings were really special for us and they were all complete stars in the Q&A’s.
POV: How have the general audience, avid romance-novel readers and professionals in the Mills & Boons industry reacted to the film? Any surprising reactions?
Julie Moggan: We’ve had a fantastic reception for Guilty Pleasures at festivals and other public screenings. Audiences have really got into the spirit of the film — there’s been lots of laughter, some cheering and even some tears by the end of it. And men seem to respond just as much as women. It makes people reflect on their own relationships and lives and everyone seems to have a different favorite character — usually the one they most identify with.
There haven’t been any specific screenings for avid romance-novel readers, but at the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam, the Dutch editorial team for Harlequin Mills & Boon came along to a screening and they were really enthusiastic and complimentary about the film afterwards. Harlequin’s PR teams in Canada and the UK have watched it. Understandably, they didn’t view it as a straightforward promotional vehicle for their books and therefore declined to join us in promoting it. But they have given Guilty Pleasures their endorsement and very kindly gave us copyright permission to use extracts and artwork from the novels.
POV: Has your view of the romance novel changed since you completed the film?
Julie Moggan: Yes, completely. Before I started out on this project I had the idea that Mills & Boons were read only by elderly British women, but I soon discovered that they are read by women of all ages, from completely different cultural backgrounds, all over the world. I had also assumed that the books were generic and old-fashioned. In fact, the genre is very varied and there are all kinds of sub-genres and different writing styles within the franchise. For example, in the UK, Mills & Boon publishes historical, medical, supernatural, crime/thriller and erotica romances, to name but a few. And far from being old-fashioned, some of the sub-genres have really kept pace with changing times, reflecting the more unconventional family/relationship dynamics of 21st century life and our more adventurous sexual tastes. Some of the writing really is pretty steamy!
There is an idea, in Britain at least, that there is something a little pathetic about reading romance novels. But through working on the film I got beyond this judgmental idea and came to completely understand the appeal of these books and why so many women enjoy reading them. There are of course some readers who find it hard to separate fantasy from reality and for whom the books have set impossibly high standards. But for lots of other women, like Shirley and Hiroko in the film, I came to feel that the books ultimately have a positive impact. They get comfort and pleasure from escaping into these glamorous books with their guaranteed happy endings. But more importantly, they try to incorporate elements from the books into their everyday lives in ways that are beneficial to them and their relationships in the long term — I think that’s really fantastic.
POV: What have you been working on since the completion of Guilty Pleasures?
Julie Moggan: I had a baby seven months ago which has been amazing. I’ve got a couple of new ideas of working on, but right now I’m mostly spending time with my little boy.