At the age of 30, I broke up with the man who’d been my boyfriend since I was 17. The romance of my teenage years was over, and I was left with some big questions about love. Shortly afterwards, I came across an article stating that every four seconds a romance novel published by Harlequin or its British counterpart, Mills & Boon, is sold somewhere in the world. I thought Mills & Boon was a dying institution, with a readership made up solely of elderly British ladies. In fact, the company is hugely successful all over the world, exporting to 109 countries across six continents. I was clearly not the only one preoccupied with questions of love.
I purchased my first romance novel — Bedded by the Greek Billionaire — and so began a two and a half year journey into the wonderful world of Harlequin and Mills & Boon. I met with readers, writers and editorial staff in the United Kingdom, United States, Japan and India. Exploring people’s deep affection for Harlequin and Mills & Boon the world over became a way to address universal questions about the meaning of true love.
In Tokyo, I attended reader tea parties and met with women who’d dedicated whole rooms of their homes to romance novel collections. In Delhi, I visited libraries full of Mills & Boon books dating back to the 1950s and met men who fondly reminisced about using the books as lovemaking manuals in their younger days. I brunched with male cover models in New York and traveled to San Francisco to join 2,000 delegates at a romance writers’ convention.
In the end, I chose to tell the stories of just a handful of the characters I’d met on my travels: three readers, their real-life Romeos, one romance writer and a male cover model. I came to realize that the film I wanted to make was not really about the Harlequin franchise or the marketing of desire. What I wanted to explore, through the nucleus of the romance novel phenomenon, was the gap between our dreams of how we’d like our lives to be and the reality of how they actually are. Shirley and Phil, Hiroko and Seiich, Shumita, Roger and Stephen stood out to me as warm, honest and hugely likeable individuals, all yearning for something more in their lives. Their struggles to bridge the gap between romantic fantasy and everyday reality (and the generosity with which they shared these struggles on camera) offered a special way in to exploring the universal quest for love.
— Julie Moggan, Director/Cinematographer