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Big screen breakthrough

GOING FOR GOLD: Lenora Crichlow with her co-stars (L-R) Lashana Lynch, Lily James and Lorraine Burroughs

IT FEELS like it has been a long time coming, but finally, a major British motion picture has a black female lead.

Lenora Crichlow, best known for her role as Annie in the hit BBC drama Being Human is heading a cast of homegrown female talents in this summer’s highly anticipated Brit flick, Fast Girls.

Written by Damian Jones and Noel Clarke (who also stars in the film), Fast Girls follows Shania Andrews (Crichlow); a talented sprinter from a London council estate, who has a shot at competing in the World Championships.

Successfully qualifying to join the Great Britain relay squad, Shania must learn how to work in a team and overcome her on-the-track challenger Lisa Temple, (played by Lily James) to prove that she is worthy to represent her country and win gold.

Though she may not be known for sporting glory, Crichlow is certainly assured a place in cinema history with this movie marking the first time a black actress has played the leading lady in a British film.

“I hope my role opens the flood gates to lots more talent and ethnicities,” says 27-year-old Crichlow, who was sharing the interview duties with her co-star Lily James. “London and the UK is very diverse, so to see that reflected in the media would be amazing.

“Things have certainly changed in the short time I have been in the industry and that fact makes me very proud. I’m humbled because I know a lot of leading female actresses of colour and it really saddens me that they are not household names.”

As a young girl, the Sugar Rush star, whose father is the late Trinidadian activist Frank Crichlow, admitted that she was greatly influenced by movies and understands the power that the film industry can hold over the younger generations.

“I know what it is like growing up as an avid film watcher, and to see something that speaks to me personally meant absolutely everything to me. To see someone doing what I wanted to do and relating to me was really important. In this film, we are all home grown talents so I hope this film will be just as inspiring for others.”

What does Crichlow say to the critics who say that Fast Girls is an overly optimistic movie?

“We wanted it to be stylised,” she says of the film, which is directed by Regan Hall. “We do gritty British films really well, but it’s nice to have a little gloss and make the world of athletics look good.”


ON TRACK: Crichlow with Noel Clarke, who stars in the film as athlectics coach Tommy

Rivals on screen, Crichlow and James were no such thing during the interview as they explained that nothing brings women together like pain, sweat, tears.

“It was a really incredible atmosphere on set,” says James. “It was an amazing experience for us girls because we did so much training before hand. We bonded and we got close and we shared a common pain.”

As James explained, it was not simply about acting the part; the women had to train like they were members of Team GB, and this included special coaching from medal winners Jeanette Kwakye and Shani Anderson.

“They’re like gods,” exclaimed James. “How they commit themselves to athletics is astounding.”

Also in awe of the runners, Crichlow added: “They train for years to hopefully be in the limelight for less than nine seconds, enjoying their moment of glory. It’s insane.”

We may currently be engulfed in an athletics frenzy with the upcoming London Olympics, but the truth is, female sports stars often suffer from a lack of mainstream support, with male-dominated activities often receiving greater coverage.

“I didn’t really know much about athletics, especially women in athletics,” admitted James. “But I’ve met so many female athletes who deserve to be highlighted in a film.”

After gaining a newfound affinity with athletes and the gruelling circumstances that they endure in order to compete for their countries, Crichlow feels it is extremely unfair to label immigrants who want to represent Great Britain in the Olympics ‘plastic Brits’; a term reserved for non-British born athletes who will compete for Britain.

“I think anyone who immigrates to another country is up against it. You’re in the minority, you have to adopt a new culture and be accepted into it, so there are challenges just being a person in a foreign country.

“But in the athletics world, once you are on the track you can be from wherever – you’ve still got to run. You are equal to the person next to you and the same rules apply to ensure it is an equal playing field.

She concludes: “I’m very proud to be British and very proud to be a Londoner and proud to call here home. [But] I’m also proud to call Trinidad home. I think if you call here [Britain] home and you want to run for this country, then you should do it with your head held high.”

Fast Girls will be in cinemas from June 15. For more information visit www.fastgirlsthemovie.co.uk

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