Five Minutes with Sue Clayton

SueClaytonSue Clayton is Programme Director for the MA in Screenwriting for Film and Television at Royal Holloway. She has written and directed more than 20 award- winning feature films, television documentaries and campaign films.

Her first feature film The Song of the Shirt (co-directed with Jonathan Curling) was released in 1979. The film examines the position of working women in 1840’s London.

How did you come to be interested in this historical period?

I was researching the history of women’s work in the 1840’s, period when many women in England worked in the clothes trade.  Conditions were appalling- many went blind or died of consumption and other diseases. Some politicians and moralists saw these women as a scourge, to others they were viewed as romantic fragile icons.

The Song of the Shirt looks at the myths, romance and class hysteria surrounding these women. The film uses both past and contemporary images to make comment on the radical potential of those women and their legacy today.

Why do you think the Song of the Shirt is seeing a revival among younger audiences?

I’m thrilled that younger audiences at the Iniva Gallery and Leyden Gallery in London have loved it! It offers something else to younger audiences, a Tarkovsky- or Bergman-like dreaminess, that might feel new to them.

The film was one of the first films to use multi-platform devices. Elements of the film also prefigure the style of ‘mash-ups’ that are done now with image and music online. At the same time the film is much slower and more dreamlike than many films today. It was shot on 16mm film in black-and-white and mastered in a quite painterly way.

What is happening with the Creativity project at the moment?

My colleague Kristen Kreider from the Drama Department has come up with the idea of a pop-up Practice Gallery. Staff and students from all Departments will be able show work such as stills, video or audio. More information will be out in this in December.

What are your ambitions for the future?

I’m working on an archive of my asylum film material for the UNHCR in Geneva and have just finished the script of a feature film. I am very concerned with the law that sees young refugees to the UK forcibly deported when they reach 18. My research has been quoted in the recent Select Committee in this topic.

I also hope to do more stills photography. I recently produced Fournier Street. This 28-image show will be at the Genesis Cinema for the next 3 weeks and at the Tate Liverpool in March 2014.

The Song of the Shirt is being screened on Tuesday 19 November at the Genesis Cinema in Whitechapel.

Photographic exhibition Fournier Street is currently on display at the Leyden Gallery.

For tickets and further information visit

Royal Holloway, University of London logo